FIRE Economy | timiacono.com - Part 4

Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow Nails Q1 GDP

A screenshot of first quarter U.S. economic growth was quickly grabbed from the Atlanta Fed’s GDPNow page as they will soon switch over to estimating economic activity for the second quarter, but they really did a bang-up job for the first three months of the year.

They’ve had the Q1 GDP growth rate at about 0.25 percent for some time now as analysts have repeatedly revised their forecasts lower.  The government said today that their first estimate of first quarter growth is 0.2 percent, far below analysts’ estimate of 1.0 percent.

Market reaction to this news along with whatever it is Federal Reserve officials have to say at the conclusion of their policy meeting today should be fun to watch, the operative question being whether “bad news is still good news” for stock prices.

Real Fed Funds Rates Since 1971

As Federal Reserve officials (i.e., the most powerful group of unelected policy makers in the world) gather to discuss if and when they should raise short-term interest rates, it’s worth reviewing how we got here from the perspective of real interest rates.

Since this chart hadn’t been updated since Ms. Yellen took over at the Fed and the official measure of inflation reached its lowest level since the 1950s (save for a few months in 2009 during the financal crisis),  a slight uptick in real rates was expected.

The 0.11 percent Fed funds rate and current annual inflation of -0.1 percent have combined to push real interest rates back into positive territory for the first time in five years.

Paraphrasing Bill Murray in Caddyshack, “So, we got that going for us, which is nice”.

Turning Chinese?

Much has been made of the leveraged speculative frenzy by undereducated Chinese day traders halfway around the world but, based on this update on NYSE margin debt from Doug Short late last week, U.S. lenders (and markets) are quickly catching up.

Of course, this comes at a time when money continues to flow out of stock funds, at least according to this Marketwatch story from Friday. Not to worry though, confidence remains high as the price of just about everything is going up again today…

Another Stunning Long-Term Chart

From a recent presentation(.pdf) by Agustín Carstens, Bank of Mexico governor and chairman of the IMF’s International Monetary and Financial Committee, via this item at Wolf Street comes the chart below that, once again, reminds us all how far removed the global financial system is from anything that could be considered “normal”.

Carstens doesn’t oppose recent interest rate and QE policies by central banks, but he is quite concerned about how it all turns out, summing things up rather nicely by noting:

The crux of the matter is that financial risk-taking has been far more responsive to unconventional monetary policies than real risk-taking has been.

This would be less troubling (well, at least a little less troubling) if not for the fact that the world’s most important central bankers in general (and former Fed Chief Bernanke in particular) have never acknowledged that “the reach for yield” even exists.

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