The Wreck of the Monetary Hesperus

by David Stockman, Daily Reckoning For 73 months running the Fed has lashed the money markets to the gross financial anomaly of ZIRP. Never before in the history of the world has any central bank or other monetary authority decreed that overnight money shall be indefinitely free to gamblers or that liquid savers should have their hard earned wealth chronically confiscated by negative returns after inflation and taxes. And, needless to say, never have savers and borrowers in a free market struck a bargain night after night after night at 0% for six years running, either. Yet now comes another Fed meeting and announcement that our monetary overlords will be “patient” with zero cost money for several more meetings. Indeed, there are even hints that the era of ZIRP could extend beyond mid-summer — that is, for more than 80 months. So an urgent question screams out. Don’t these obstinate zealots realize that zero cost overnight money has only one use, and that is to fund the carry trades of Wall Street gamblers? David Stockman Accordingly, are they not even more culpable than Longfellow’s skipper, who perished along with the fair daughter he lashed to his ship’s mast because he insouciantly belittled a ferocious storm made by nature? By contrast, these benighted folks at the Fed are actually fueling their own hellish financial storm, thereby leaving in mortal danger the main street economy which they, too, have foolishly nailed to the mast of ZIRP. The reason that ZIRP is of exclusive benefit to financial gamblers is straightforward. No businessman in his right mind would fund equipment, inventories or even receivables with borrowings under a one-day or even one-week tenor. The risk of fatal business disruption resulting from the need to precipitously liquidate working assets if funding can not be rolled-over at or near the existing interest rates is self-evident. Likewise, no sane householder would buy a home, automobile or even toaster on overnight borrowings, either. And, yes, financial institutions experiencing the daily ebb and flow of cash excesses and deficiencies do use the money market. But managing fluctuating cash balances does not require ZIRP — especially when most banks alternate between being suppliers and users of funds on practically an odd/even day basis. Cash balances in the financial system can be cleared at 0.2%, 2% or 5% with equal aplomb. So ZIRP is nothing more than free COGS (cost of good sold) for Wall Street gamblers. It is they who harvest the “arb”. That is, the spread between the free funding dispensed by the Fed and any financial asset with a yield or prospect of short-term gain. And, yes, if push comes to shove, these same fast money gamblers can ordinarily liquidate their assets, repay their borrowings and start with a clean book the next morning — unlike business and household borrowers in the main street economy. Stated differently, the Fed’s ZIRP policy is a giant subsidy to speculators. Owing to the utter foolishness of its “transparent” communications policy, embodied in such gems as the fact the term “patient” is now the well understood code word for no rate increases for the next two meetings, traders don’t even have to worry about one single dime of unexpected change in their carry cost, or the losses that can result from needing to suddenly dump less than fully liquid assets in order to repay their overnight borrowings (or liquidate options and other similar “structured finance” positions). The truth is, in an honest free market traders can not earn windfall returns arbing the yield curve. The vigorish gets competed away. And the independent movement of asset prices and funding costs compress returns toward the time value of money and the risk differentials embedded in each trader’s specific book of assets and liabilities. By contrast, the ZIRP market is completely dishonest and therefore deeply subsidized. And every Econ 101 student knows that when you deeply subsidize something, you get more and more of it. In essence, by clinging obstinately and mindlessly to ZIRP the Fed is just systematically juicing the gamblers, and thereby inflating ever greater mispricing of financial assets and ever more dangerous and explosive financial bubbles. In fact, after 73 months of ZIRP how can rational adults obsess over whether the first smidgeon of a rate increase should occur in June or September and whether the economy can tolerate a rise in the funds rate from 12 bps today to 25 bps sometime down the road? The difference is utterly irrelevant noise to the main street economy; it can’t possibly impact the economic calculus of a single household or business. Continue Reading>>>

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