Fed’s Continuing Denial About Economy Risks More than Its Own Credibility (Audio)
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Well, the Dow Jones ended another down week on a down note, dropping 390 points. The NASDAQ was down as well, down 126 points. Of course, it had been worse. At one point, the NASDAQ was down almost 190 points. And the Dow was down, I think, 530. But we still finished off a pretty bad week, extending the route.
This is, of course, the worst January in the history of the stock market. The Dow Jones is now off about 13% from its highs, the NASDAQ about 15%, so firmly in correction territory. That’s what Wall Street calls a decline of 10% or more. When it hits a decline of 20%, then they say it’s a bear market. Of course, we are probably in a bear market right now. Because, ultimately, I believe these indexes will be down 20%, and so we’re just earlier in the bear market. But some indexes are all already firmly in the bear camp.
The transportation average is down, what, about twenty-seven and a half percent? That’s bear market. The Russell 2000 is down about 23%. So bear market territory there. And, of course, there are many sectors that are in bear markets. The autos are in bear markets. The retailers are in bear markets. The financials are deep in bear market territory. A lot of the financials are down 30-35% now from their highs. The homebuilders not quite in bear market territory yet, but they soon will be. But they’re actually at four-year lows. Even though they are not yet quite down 20%, they are at four-year lows, which means the homebuilders are lower than they were before the Fed started QE3, forgetting about when they ended it. They’re lower than they were when they started.
In fact, all of the major averages are now lower than they were when the Fed ended QE3. Pretty soon, they’ll all be lower than it was when the Fed started QE3. And, of course, when you dig beneath the sectors, there are many individual stocks that are down 30, 40, 50, 60, 70, 80%. I mean, look at GoPro, now down about 82% from where it was last year. That was one of the highly touted IPOs. And, obviously, it’s now collapsed. And there are a lot of these stocks where we’ve seen this happen over the course of the last year. This is clearly the type of action that you get in a bear market. And I think we are in a bear market. And many stocks, again, have been in bear market for a long time, but it was being masked by some of these high marquee names, these big profile names that were just doing so well. It was masking the problems beneath the surface. But now that those stocks have joined the party, you’re no longer obscuring what’s going on, and you can really see the carnage. And it’s going to continue until the Fed comes to the rescue of the market.
Yesterday, we had a rally. The Dow did have a 300-point rally, closed up about 200, because Bullard came out. And if you remember Bullard, he’s the guy that saved the market from the crash it was going to have in October of 2014 by hinting of QE4. Of course, QE4 never happened, but the hint was all the market needed, and it took off. Well, this time Dudley came out, and he did say something dovish, but not dovish enough. And, of course, he didn’t want to admit that there’s anything wrong with the economy. So he just simply claimed that he was concerned that oil prices were too low, and that it might mean that inflation might not rise quickly enough. So maybe the Fed should hike more slowly, and that was enough to rally the market. But today, another Fed governor came out, William Dudley, and what he said contradicted what Bullard said. Dudley basically came out and said, “Everything is great.” He said the economy looks strong. In fact, he said he thinks that the U.S. is going to grow above trend in 2016. And he said that some of the negative economic data that’s come out recently…which may qualify as the understatement of the decade, but he said we should ignore that weak data.
We should just look at it in the context of a strong labor market. And given the fact that the labor market is so strong, well, that must mean the economy is very strong. And so any data that doesn’t support this should just be dismissed or ignored, because, clearly, the most important data is the jobs data. In other words, it doesn’t matter what negative information is out there. Whether it’s in the markets or in the economy, as long as we’re still creating 200,000 to 300,000 mostly low-paying, mostly part-time jobs a month – that means everything is fine. But, you know, if everything was fine, if these are really good jobs, why aren’t the people who have these paychecks spending? Why are retail sales plunging? Why are corporate earnings plunging? Of course, all of these employment numbers, assuming these jobs were actually created, but they’re going to be destroyed, because if profits are collapsing, if sales are collapsing, what are companies going to do with their workforce? They’re going to lay them off.
In fact, Walmart announced today they’re closing about 125, 150 stores in the U.S., laying off about 10,000 people. Of course, you know why they have to do this too, because they want to try to build up their online presence, because they need to reduce their labor costs, because they just gave everybody raise. So now they have to give a lot of people pink slips. But I’ve been saying for a while that I expected the retailers to announce significant layoffs this year. But I think it’s going to be across the board. The financials are going to be laying people off, the automobile sector, the housing sector. Everything is collapsing. Everything that was built on the Fed’s bubble is imploding. All the phony wealth that was the result of quantitative easing is disappearing rapidly. And it’s amazing that the Federal Reserve believes in the wealth effect on the way up, but somehow, they’re oblivious to it on the way down. They know that by goosing the stock market, they made people wealthier, or believe they were wealthier, and so they went out and spent more money. Well, now that you take all that wealth away, can’t they see that it’s going to work even in reverse?
In fact, I think is going to work even stronger in reverse. I think the amount of spending that people cut back on because their stock portfolios are getting killed, I think that’s going to be an even bigger reverse wealth effect than the effect of stock prices going up. Because if people have their stocks and their pensions and their IRAs, that money is for the future. And sure, they might spend a little bit more or save a little bit less if they think their retirement savings are really growing, but all of a sudden, their retirement savings collapse. They’re going to have to stop spending and start adding to it a lot faster to try to shore up their retirement. So I think it’s going to work more on the downside than it did on the upside. But for some reason, the Fed is oblivious.
And how could Bullard, in the face of all this information… in fact, he even said that since the Fed raised rates, his outlook on the economy hasn’t been diminished at all. How clueless can this guy be? It’s so ridiculous, that he must not believe it. My only thought is that he’s just out there trying to pretend that the economy is good. Remember, the whole rate hike was about instilling confidence. They shouldn’t have hiked rates based on the data, but they wanted to pretend the economy was strong, so they hiked rates anyway. And now, as the markets are imploding and the data is getting worse…and I’m going to get to today’s data, which was horrific, shortly. But you take Dudley out there, and he says, “Everything is great. Got nothing to worry about, everything is fantastic.” How much longer can he get away with saying that, right? Maybe if you’re on the Titanic, and you hit that iceberg, and the captain comes on the speaker, and he says, “Hey, everybody, everything is okay. We just have a little minor scrape here. Nothing to worry about, keep on dancing.” Initially, you might believe him, because if you look around, everything looks okay, right? But by the time the captain is waist deep in water because the ship is sinking, and if he keeps saying that everything is okay, nothing to worry about, he’s not going to have that much credibility. I think that’s what’s going on with the Fed. Although, I think we’re already at the point where people should laugh.
And, in fact, J.P. Morgan came out today and pushed back the point where they think we’re going to see the first rate hike in 2016. They were thinking March, now they are saying June. And that’s how it started last year. Remember, everybody was looking for the first rate hike in March, then they went to June, then they went to December. We finally got it in December, and now people are already dialing back when they think the next one is going to be. When are they going to realize that the next one ain’t happening, because we are already in a recession? And I’m talking about a statistical recession that the government is ultimately going to have to acknowledge. Sure, I think that we have been in a recession during the entire recovery. I think the government manufactured the economic growth by fudging the inflation numbers and so they’re pretending that inflation is actually economic growth. But I think even the way the government scores it, I think that we are already in a recession. And it’s interesting that even though William Dudley is proclaiming how strong this economy is, and how there’s nothing to worry about…although, he did acknowledge in the same speech that if the economy does weaken, which he doesn’t expect, that they’re willing to consider negative interest rates at the Fed. Well, not only are they going to consider it, they’re going to do it. That’s why they’ve considered it, because that’s already their plan.
But even as Bill Dudley was saying that the economy is in great shape, the Atlanta Fed was busy downwardly revising their estimates for the fourth quarter of last year, which they now have at just .6, six-tenths of 1% for the fourth quarter. And I still think that they’re too optimistic, because we still have more bad data to come for the month of December that we haven’t got yet. And by the time we get that number, I think even if we get .6 for the first look for December, by the time they revise it a month or two later, it’s going to be a negative number, right? So it could be that the Federal Reserve, a data-dependent Federal Reserve, by the time they actually raised rates for the first time, the economy was already back in recession. Because if the fourth quarter of last year was a negative quarter, and then the first quarter of this year is a negative quarter, we’re in a technical recession. Now, even if the fourth quarter of last year was not negative, but the first quarter of this year is negative, we can still be in a recession if the second quarter of next year is negative.
As a matter of fact, I think there’s a pretty good chance that not only was the fourth quarter of 2015 negative, but every quarter of 2016 could be negative too. This recession could extend all the way through the November election. So obviously if that’s the case, and we’re in a recession now, it’s only a matter of time before the Fed admits that we’re in recession and reverses policy officially. Or the markets figure out, without the Fed telling them, what they should’ve figured out already, that we are in a recession. And, of course, there goes all the Fed’s credibility.
Remember, the reason I thought the Fed wasn’t going to raise rates at all is because I assumed that they were smart enough to realize how dumb they would look if they did raise rates, and then had to reverse and cut them to zero. So I thought, in order to avoid looking that stupid, they would leave rates at zero the whole time. But instead, they raised them. And now they’re going to look like complete idiots when they have to cut them, which is one of the reasons that they’re resisting doing it, and one of the reasons they want to keep talking as if the economy was strong, because they don’t want to admit that what they did was a mistake.
Now, when they do ultimately cut rates and do QE4, they’re going to blame it on something. They’re going to say it’s some external event beyond their control that nobody could have possibly foreseen. But whatever they blame it on, that’s not the cause. The problem has nothing to do with what their excuse is going to be. They’re just going to try to cover it up. And, by the way, I did the last podcast on the State of Union address. And, of course, President Obama said everything is great, the economy is in a great shape, we’re the envy of the world, and anybody who says the economy is in decline is peddling fiction. That’s what he said. The only fiction being peddled is that the economy is recovering, because it’s not. But I think that Obama gave the marching orders to the Fed. You know they’re political, because Ben Bernanke admitted that he thought he was part of the Bush administration. So Yellen, she’s part of the Obama administration, and she’s just like one of his mouthpieces, one of his spokesmen. She’s like a press secretary, right? And so they’ve got to come out there and say the same thing the president is saying, “The economy is great, the economy is great.” They want to keep up the pretense all the way to the November elections so Hillary Clinton could be reelected. But I think they’re not going to be able to do it, because the data is going to be so weak, the markets going to be so weak. In order to prevent all hell form breaking loose, they’re going to have to come back, not only with QE4, but a massive Keynesian fiscal stimulus, which I think is going to come before the election.
It’s going to be a middle class tax cut. It’s going to be a big increase in government spending. There’s going to be some stimulus checks in the mail, and the budget deficit is going to explode back up to $1 trillion for 2016, maybe even bigger. In fact, I think in the next few years we could see our first $2 trillion budget deficit. And then, of course, Obama’s nonsensical claim that he reduced the deficit by 60 or 70%. By the time he leaves office, it’s going to be just as high as it was when he entered office. And, of course, the bigger problem is that the national debt, which is the sum total of all those deficits, will have doubled while he was president to about $20 trillion.
But let’s get into the economic news that helped prompt the Atlanta Fed to reduce its forecast for fourth-quarter GDP, and which obviously Dudley was completely ignoring. Let’s start with retail sales. Now, retail sales were supposed to come in flat, instead they came in -0.1. But where it gets worse is X-autos. They were supposed to rise by 0.2. Instead, they fell by 0.1. And, in fact, they took the prior month down from the original estimate of 0.4 increase to just 0.3. And, in fact, the less automobiles and gasoline, there they were looking for a 0.3% increase. Instead, we were unchanged during the month of December.
And, in fact, December, year-over-year, we had a decline in retail sales for the first time since the 2008 financial crisis. That’s exactly what I said was going to happen, and now the data is bearing me out. But the worst report was another manufacturing report, this time for the Empire State for the month of January. Now, the December was -4.59, which is a bad report. They were looking for another bad report for January, but they thought it would improve. It would be a little bit less bad. They were looking for -4. Instead, we got -19.37. That’s the worst since the Lehman crisis in 2008. So that number went from bad to worse.
Now let’s look at industrial production. That came out today. This is a December number, horrible number. Okay, so they were looking for -0.2, instead we got -0.4. So that’s twice as bad as the bad number they were looking for. But it gets worse, because last month’s -.6 was revised to -.9. So the drop in November was revised to a 50% bigger drop than was initially reported. Then the December decline, see, instead of declining another 0.2 from -0.6, we declined .4 from -0.9. So it’s a much bigger drop. In fact capacity utilization went down from 77, the prior month, to 76.5. It dropped a half a percent. They expected it to drop just a tenth of a percent. It dropped five times as much as they were expecting.
Now let’s look at business inventories. Business inventories, this is a November number. We haven’t even got the December number yet. The November number was supposed to be unchanged. It was -0.2. So the inventories are contracting, but they also went back to October, which was originally reported at zero, and they made that -0.1. Instead of flat from flat, we drop 0.2 from a drop of 0.1. That’s a bigger reduction in inventory. That is subtracting from fourth-quarter GDP, and I think the December number will subtract even more. Meanwhile, business inventory to sales ratio 1.38 again, the highest level since the 2008 financial crisis. These inventories are piling up across the board. Auto dealerships, department stores, you name it, they can’t sell it.
If this economy is so good, and we’re creating all these jobs, why isn’t anybody shopping? The reason is because people can barely pay their rent or their utility bills with these low paychecks from these part-time jobs. Or they’re loaded up with debt, and they’re too busy spending money on what they bought in the past to buy new stuff today. The only thing probably keeping them afloat is that they can still borrow more money and that their gasoline bills are down, because the oil price is so low that crude closed today below $30 a barrel, not only here in West Texas, but in Brent. All this is because the US dollar is continuing to rise with the exception of the euro, the Swiss franc and the Japanese yen, where the dollar is falling. The dollar is rising against a lot of the commodity link currencies.
Again, all this is because everybody continues to believe that despite all these rotten numbers that the economy is still in good shape and that it’s going to keep growing and therefore the fed’s going to keep raising interest rates. This is what’s screwing up the global economy. Oil prices are going down for that reason. The Chinese market is going down for that reason, because the dollar going up is screwing up the global economy. Because when the dollar goes up, things get more expensive for everybody outside the United States, and so they can’t spend. Meanwhile, companies outside the United States that have borrowed in dollars have a harder time paying their bills. Meanwhile, countries that export commodities are having a harder time, because the value of their exports are coming down. This is screwing up the global economy. You think, “Well, why isn’t the strong dollar helping America?” Well, it is helping America. It’s preventing us from completely imploding. The problem is, yes, a strong dollar makes it easier for Americans to spend, but the problem is they don’t have enough dollars. They’re broke. In fact, most Americans owe dollars. They’re in debt. So a strong dollar just makes their liabilities that much more difficult to pay.
Americans don’t have any savings. Their paychecks are so small that after they pay for the rent, their health insurance, their utilities, and their taxes, there’s nothing left. So it’s not doing the global economy any good that Americans have the greater purchasing power, because they are already maxed out, because they spent too much. You’ve got people around the world, like in China, that have lots of savings. They don’t have any debt, they need all kinds of things. They can’t spend as much because of currencies going down. The same thing in other countries. But when the dollar turns, which it will, as soon as people figure out, either on their own or because the Fed acknowledges the obvious, once the dollar tanks, then that’s going to unleash these global economies.
You’re going to see a boom. All of a sudden, prices will come down. It’s going to be a relief. Debt service costs will come down. It’s the threat of higher interest rates and a stronger dollar, that’s was undermining all the global economies. Again, the root cause here, is that when the Federal Reserve initially did QE1 and 2, the rest of the world screwed up by accommodating what we did. To prevent the dollar from completely collapsing, they ran up their own money supply. They absorbed our QE, and it created a situation where we were basically immune to some of the negative consequences of what we were doing. We didn’t have the price inflation. We didn’t have the spike up in long-term interest rates. So because it looked like there were no negative consequences to what we were doing, because the rest of the world was falling on that landmine for us, we kept doing it and doing it and doing it. Then people like me, who were saying, “Look, QE is a bad thing, and it’s going to cause prices to go up, and it’s a problem,” the fact that it wasn’t obvious to so many people, well, they concluded, “Well, guys like Peter Schiff are wrong. There’s no reason why we can’t do this indefinitely, because there’s no consequence.”
Of course, when the Fed started talking about ending QE and raising interest rates and shrinking its balance sheet, everybody just assumed they can actually do it. I always said from the beginning that that’s impossible to do, but people didn’t believe it. The problem is the governments and the central banks abroad never should have participated. They never should have cut their interest rates. They never should have fought that currency war. They never should have tried to prevent their currencies from rising, because now they’re reaping the consequences of that. They’re seeing the stronger dollar now and the tightening of U.S. interest rates negatively impact them. Had they simply allowed their currencies to rise, they would have been fine. America would have been stuck absorbing all these problems. Instead, we exported the problems. The next time when the Fed re-launches QE4, I don’t think the world is going to make that mistake twice.
In fact, I think the Chinese are setting the yuan up for a huge increase. That’s why they’re letting it go down now, so they can let it go up later. It’s going down when the dollar is strong because it’s going to go way up when the dollar is weak. That is what’s going to happen, and that’s going to be a big game changer internationally, but it’s going to mean we’re going to have to choke on our next round of QE, because it’s not going to produce the consequences it did before, because we’re not going to have help.
Meanwhile, I think by the time the Fed acknowledges this weak economy and they come to the rescue with stimulus, it’s going to be too late. The recession is going to continue. The economic data is going to continue to worsen, even after the Fed starts to stimulate. The stimulus may stop the stock market from falling. Believe me, I think that just saying, admitting that there is no rate hikes, that won’t be enough. There might be a knee-jerk rally in the stock market in the US if the Fed acknowledges that the economy is weak and therefore the rate hikes are on some kind of permanent hold until things turn around. That will probably spark a relief rally in the market. But given the implications of that, meaning that “Oh, the economy is weak, therefore corporate earnings are going to be weak and these high stock valuations are unjustified.” I think the US stock market resumes its decline. Not so overseas, because I do believe that once the Fed admits that it can’t raise rates, that’s a game changer for the currency markets, that’s a game changer for commodities, that’s a game changer for precious metals. They’re all going to go up.
Of course, initially, when the oil market spikes up, because the Fed takes rate hikes off the table, people are going to want to buy the U.S. stock market. Because they’ve convinced themselves that the tail is wagging the dog, that the market is going down because oil prices are rising. So when they see oil prices rise, they’ll think that’s good, and they’ll buy stocks. But it’s actually bad, because higher oil prices are just going to compound the problems that are getting worse in the US economy. Because now, on top of all the other things that American consumers have to deal with, now they’re going to have to deal with rising gasoline prices, instead of falling prices. Of course, the layoffs are just going to get started. We’re just one, a bad nonfarm payroll report away from QE4. Because if the only thing the Fed’s got to hang its hat on is a good job’s number, all we have to do is get a bad one. Of course, we can get a bad one, and they can go back and revise down the other ones that make them a lot less positive. These are one of the most regularly revised numbers. Sometimes they revise them a year later. They realize they made a huge mistake.
Why guys like Dudley would put so much confidence in that number, yet no confidence at all in all the other numbers that come out. They mean nothing. Suppose the only one that counts is the one that’s probably the least reliable, but is also a lagging indicator. As I said, just like companies loaded up on consumer goods that their customers are too broke to afford, they misinterpreted future consumer demand. They also misinterpreted how many employees they were going to need. A lot of the people who have been hired are going to be fired, because they never should have been hired in the first place. They were only hired because employers were lulled into a false sense of optimism by all this propaganda from the administration, Wall Street, the Fed, that everything was great. This big recovery was coming. “Hey, look at all these jobs that are being created.” You better hire people. You better prepare for this, because people are going to start shopping. They’re going to take all these paychecks. You better be ready. You better build up your inventories. All that was bad advice. It did goose the market in the short run, but because of all these mistakes, it just means that this decline is going to be that much worse, because now we have more mistakes that we have to unwind.
And that would bring me to the bigger picture, in that everybody is convinced that the Fed’s monetary policy, QE zero percent interest rates worked, that we dodged the bullet. We were on the cusp of a great recession, but the wisdom of Ben Bernanke, because he had the courage to act, and everything is great. And how do we know it’s great? Because the Fed told us how great it was. They told us what a success their policy was. But I always said, “Hey this victory dance is premature, because you don’t know it’s a success until you end it. Until you take away all the supports, and then what you built is still standing without those supports.” I always said its impossible, because the whole foundation is that QE, and if you take it away and the zero percent rates, there’s nothing beneath it but Fed hot air, and the whole phony statue they erected, structure, is going to come crashing down. But everybody believed that narrative, and that is what the dollar rally was based on, the fact that this stuff worked. When people figure out, it didn’t work, because if we’re right back in recession, it didn’t work. If the minute the Fed lifts interest rates from zero, they not only take them back to zero, but take them negative, it didn’t work.
The proof that it worked was the fact that they can raise them back up again. But if they can’t, if we never reached escape velocity, if the rocket couldn’t make it into orbit, if it plunged back down and crashed, and we’re right back where we started. In fact, we’re not going to be right back where we started. We’re in a deeper hole. We have trillions and trillions of dollars in debt that we didn’t have eight years ago. We’ve doubled the federal debt. We’ve quintupled the Fed’s balance sheet. We’ve decimated our labor force. The US economy is in so much worse shape today than it was eight years ago. When people figure this out, that the Fed didn’t solve our problems, they made them worse, that they didn’t save the economy, they condemned the economy, this is a huge game changer all at once. The market is going to have to react violently to this. It’s not going to be a slow turn. It’s going to be all of a sudden, people are going to figure out that everything they’ve been buying and selling for the past several years has been wrong, because they based their decisions on information that’s inaccurate. Everybody is going to find out at once.
The problem is when you want to do something, when you want to buy something, someone has to be willing to sell it to you. And when you want to sell something, somebody has to be willing to buy it. When all the people who have been buying dollars want to get rid of them, who’s going to buy them? Nope, because everybody’s going to have the same information. It’s the most crowded trade ever. When all the people who crowded in the dollar because they thought we had a real recovery and the Fed was going to hike rates, when they find out it was a phony recovery, we’re back in deeper recession than we were before, and the Fed’s now at negative rates and QE4 is bigger than 1, 2 and 3 combined, and everybody wants out of the buck, who’s there to take the other side of the trade? Nobody.
Same thing with gold. All the people who have been selling gold because everything is great, because the Feds, they’re geniuses, they’ve solved everything, and there’s no reason to ever own gold because the economy is being run by these masterminds who are planning everything, who can save us from any problem. They are omniscient and all knowing. When the Fed loses all of its credibility, and all they’ve got left is their printing press, everybody is going to want to buy that gold back that they sold. Problem is the gold’s not there anymore, and it’s not for sale. The price is going to skyrocket. This is going to be a game changer. That’s why I think we got to buckle in. This is a big roller coaster ride. I know that people have a queasy stomach, because as the markets are under pressure, as the foreign currencies are under pressure, we’re going down that roller coaster, and it’s scary. We’ve got to hold on. This is going to be one of those quick turns up, and we’re just going to shoot straight up once reality sets in and people figure out what we already know. That’s why I don’t want to jump off the roller coaster and miss the ride up, because I’d hate to be to be in here for the pain, yet not experience any of the gain.
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