From a small northwestern observatory…

Finance and economics generally focused on real estate

Posts Tagged ‘QE2

Housing Finance — Take 2

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Again, from the Wall Street Journal, we find reasons for concern. The “Ahead of the Tape” column in today’s Journal, we find an excellent — but troubling — article by Kelly Evans titled “Economy Needs a Borrower of Last Resort.” It really follows my theme from yesterday, and I couldn’t agree more.

Graph courtesy The Wall Street Journal

The first line of the article says it all: “A lack of funds isn’t hampering the U.S. Economy right now. It is a lack of demand for them.” The FED has been pumping billions into the money supply by buying bonds from banks. In a healthy economy, this should drive up the money supply by a multiple of the face amount bought. Why? An old equation from Econ 101 called the “Velocity of Money.” When I was teaching, I explained (or tried to, for the C students) that when the FED injects money into banks, the banks loan it out. The borrowers in turn buy stuff and the money goes back into the banks, minus a little. That happens several times over. Thus, a dollar of money “injection” by the FED should usually result in at least $2 of net M2 money creation.

Imagine a dollar (or a hundred thousand dollars) injected into the system which is loaned to a family buying a new home. They pay the builder, who deposits the money in the bank (actually, paying off the construction loan) and then that money can be loaned back into the system. Some of it bleeds off into taxes, exports, and such, with each iteration of the deposit-and-loan cycle, but still, the money cycles thru the system. Since each subsequent deposit and loan doesn’t happen instantly, there is a little bit of a lag. Nonetheless, over a short period of time, the system should work. The math behind this is called the “Cambridge Velocity Equation” and it’s been known to economists for hundreds of years.

So, since November, the FED has purchased $684 Billion in bonds, which SHOULD have resulted in trillions of dollars in new money creation. Instead, M2 (the abbreviation for the money supply, defined as all of the cash, bank deposits, and money market funds in the system) has only increased by $326 Billion, suggesting that the velocity of money is about 0.5. Note that it SHOULD be 2 or 3 or more in a vibrant economy. This means that for every dollar injected into the system by the FED, half of it has dissipated.

As the article points out, this is why the recovery has remained so anemic. I would posit that a big problem is in the home loan business, which is far weaker than merely “anemic” — it’s on life support with the undertaker waiting in the lobby.

Kelly Evans posits that the market needs a lender of last resort, which is exactly what I was saying yesterday. Unless and until the system starts turning into the skid, by fixing the totally busted mortgage market, a double-dip recession seems inevitable.

Written by johnkilpatrick

June 2, 2011 at 4:05 pm

Two quickies from the WSJ

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Page C1 today has two important articles that caught our eyes. I’ll write about the first right now, and follow up with the other one later today. First, Kelly Evans contributes “Overlooked Inflation Cue: Follow the Money.” It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that money supply growth in the western economies was rampant during the run-up to the current recession. In the U.S. and the U.K., M-2 growth peaked in late ’07 to early ’08 (you don’t have to be a monetarist to figure that out). The Eurozone kept pumping money at faster rates right up to mid ’09

Where money supply growth went from there, though, was a bit of a mixed bag. In the U.S., the annual growth in M-2 fell from a peak of about 12% right before the recession to a low of about 1.5% in early ’10, and has stayed below 3% since. (This basically supports my contention that the sturm-and-drang over QE-2 was all politics.) The U.K.’s growth rate peaked at about 9%, fell earlier than ours, and hit its bottom (about 2%) in mid ’09. Intriguingly, the U.K. money supply growth rate bounced back immediately, with the virtual money presses running full-speed to get the money supply growth rate back up to about 6% in early ’10, but then falling off to about 4% today.

In the Eurozone, the money supply growth tracked very closely with the U.S., bottoming with ours in mid ’10, but since then, the European bankers have started pumping money back into the system, with their M-2 growth rate headed continuously back upwards (at about 4% today).

There are two important implications for all of this (plus my afore-mentioned observation about QE-2). First, the three big western currencies are on decidedly different tacks. The idea of opposing viewpoints among the big western central bankers is not well explored in today’s decidedly multi-polar world economy. (Back when western banking was a closed system, everyone else in the world could only sit back and watch. Now that the Chinese — and even the Japanese with all their other troubles — are more than sidelines spectators, one can only wonder how disagreements among the western bankers will play out.)

Second, though, the really significant point is that despite all of the different paths of M-2 since 2009, all of the growth rates are decidedly down from the earlier peaks. From a real estate perspective, this has major implications. As investors diversify away from stocks, real estate and bonds have a certain equivalency. In a no- or low-inflation scenario, bonds are viewed as the more secure investment. In a higher-inflation world, real estate is viewed as a bond with a built-in inflation hedge. Hence, lower inflation portends well for bonds but poorly for real estate.

One might argue that healthy bonds means low interest rates for real estate, but this ignores the fact that interest rates are already at historic lows. Hence, what real estate needs today is a nice raison d’ĂȘtre, which a tiny bit of inflation would give it. I’m NOT pro-hyper-inflation, mind you, and inflation flat-lines are overall healthy for the economy. However, if real estate investors are hoping for an inflation kick, it doesn’t look like they’re going to get it.

A last minute edit — Later in the day, I noticed that yesterday’s USA Today had a “snapshot” (a little graphic in the lower left corner of the front page) titled “Which Investment Will Perform the Best”, taken from a survey recently conducted by Edward Jones. Topping the list was Technology (33%), follwed by Gold (31%), Blue-chip stocks (10%), Real Estate (9%) and International stocks (9%). Given that gold and real estate are both thought to be inflation hedges, it appears that the market still worries in that direction.

Written by johnkilpatrick

April 12, 2011 at 5:00 am

Conerly Consulting

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Dr. Bill Conerly of Portland, Oregon, produces a wonderful little economic report called the Businenomics Newsletter. You can check it out here. While it is heavily Pacific Northwest focused, he has some great insights into the “big picture” of the U.S. economy as a whole. I highly recommend his research, and (as long as I’m in the promotion game), he’s a great public speaker.

He discusses two key elements of the “end of the recession” right up front — the current consensus forecasts of strong GDP growth for the next two years and the current “bounce-back” in consumer spending (which fell off significantly from mid-08 to mid-09). Unfortunately, capital goods orders are only sluggishly recovering, and state-and-local budget gaps continue to be a drag on the economy.

As for construction, the decline is over, but the bounce-back is sluggish. Residential construction fell from an annual rate of about $550 Billion in the 2007 range to about $250B in 2009, and continues to flat-line there. Private non-residential peaked at about $400B in 2008/09, and has since declined to about $250B (where it’s been hovering for since early 2010). Public non-residential has been on a bit of an up-swing all through the recession, but is still barely above 2007 levels (about $300B). In short, these three sectors taken together have more-or-less flat-lined for the past year and a half or so, and appear to be staying there for the time being.

Anyone who reads the paper or watches the news on TV knows we’re in the midst of a raw materials crisis, with aggregate materials prices (the “crude materials index) up about 25% from its recent mid-2009 low. However, the price index is still well-below early 2008. Conerly suggests that the rise is “hard on some, but will not trigger general inflation.”

The money supply (M-2) continues to grow, and QE2 has apparently not had an inflationary impact, at least from reading the charts. Indeed, prior to QE2, the money supply chart looked like it was ready to flat-line. In total, as Conerly notes, the stock market appears to be happy that the economy is growing again.

Written by johnkilpatrick

March 10, 2011 at 11:43 am

Paul Krugman’s Column

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Frequently I disagree with Prof. Krugman, but I nonetheless enjoy reading what he has to say. His writing is clear and lucid, and he backs up what he has to say with facts rather than simplistic conjecture. Nobel Prize Winners tend to write like that.

Today’s column in the New York Times is no exception, and this happens to be one of those times that I agree with him. Indeed, I think he doesn’t go far enough. I’ll leave the bulk of what he’s said for you to read on your own, but basically he ties global warming (even if you disagree with the theory, you can’t argue with the empirical observations) to floods, famine, and food inflation. Many critics (the Chinese, right-wing-ers, etc.) blame Ben Bernake and QE2 for the crisis. That theory has a real cart-before-the-horse problem. As it happens, global food price inflation became a reality before QE2, not after. Some theorists would also blame China and other developing nations — as their economies grow, their people want and indeed need better calorie counts. City dwellers have less time to prepare complex meals from simple ingredients, thus adding to the food logistics chain.

Krugman draws, I think, a difficult but correct conclusion that global unrest (Egypt, Tunisia) has to be placed in the context of food prices. In developing countries, food makes up a much larger portion of consumption expenditures than it does in the U.S., Japan, or Europe.

Where Krugman stops short, unfortunately, is the more direct implications for the U.S. Authoritarian governments who draw this lesson properly will find themselves caught between a rock and a hard place. On one hand, they will want to pay workers more, either directly (through higher wages) or indirectly (through food subsidies). China, with enormous cash reserves, has the easiest time of this. Indonesia, for example, will face problems. On the other hand, rising wages means either directly raising the costs to the consumers (that’s us and our European friends) or indirectly raising it via currency manipulation (which few countries have the ability to do). Of course, consumers faced with rising prices have the option of decreasing consumption, something which is fairly easy to do when we’re talking about non-essentials. Declining consumption leads to unemployment abroad, which frightens the daylights out of authoritarian regimes.

U.S. consumers have enjoyed rapid increases in consumption with relatively flat-lined prices for the last three decades, due to the juxtaposition of relatively flat commodity prices (food, energy, raw materials), rapid increases in productivity, and global application of the law of comparative advantage. Spikes in commodity prices could change all of this, as we saw in the 1970’s, and THAT may be the most important thing to look at in the economy right now.

Written by johnkilpatrick

February 7, 2011 at 10:06 am

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