The Great Debate UK

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Why markets ignore good news from U.S. to focus on bad news from Europe

A trader watches the screen at his terminal on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New York

What’s spooking the markets?

One thing we can say for sure is that it is not the slightly weaker-than-expected retail sales that triggered the mayhem on Wall Street on Wednesday morning. Most U.S. economic data have actually been quite strong in the month since Wall Street peaked on Sept. 19.

So to find an economic rationale for the biggest stock-market decline since 2011, we have to consider two other explanations.

The first is the collapse of oil prices, down almost 30 percent since late June in response to Saudi Arabia’s apparent decision to wreck the economics of U.S. shale oil. Falling oil prices are generally beneficial for the world economy -- and for most businesses outside the energy sector.  But investors now fleeing from natural-resource stocks will take time to recycle their money into other industries, such as airlines, retailers and auto manufacturers. Until this rotation happens, broad stock-market indices are dragged down by the plunging oil shares, a process visible almost every day in the past two weeks, especially in the last hour of trading.

A trader watches the screen at his terminal on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange in New YorkIf falling oil prices were the main causes of the market setback, it would not be a big problem. There is, however, a far more worrying explanation: Europe. Not just the obvious weakness of the European economy, but the inability or unwillingness of European Union policymakers to agree on a sensible response.

from Anatole Kaletsky:

Yellen’s remarkably unremarkable news conference – and why it’s a good thing

Yellen holds a news conference following two-day Federal Open Market Committee meeting at the Federal Reserve in WashingtonJohn Maynard Keynes famously said that his highest ambition was to make economic policy as boring as dentistry. In this respect, as in so many others, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen is proving to be a loyal Keynesian.

Yellen’s second news conference as Fed chair conveyed no new information about the timing of future interest rate moves. She gave no hints about an “exit strategy” for the Fed to return the $3 trillion of bonds it has acquired to the private sector. She told us nothing about the Fed’s expectations on inflation, employment and economic growth -- not even about the board’s views on financial volatility, regulation, asset prices or bank credit policies.

from Nicholas Wapshott:

Yellen shows her hand

The difference between the Federal Reserve Board of Chairwoman Janet Yellen and that of her immediate predecessor Ben Bernanke is becoming clear. No more so than in their approach to the problem of joblessness.

Bernanke made clear that in the post-2008 economy, his principal goal was the creation of jobs, not curbing inflation. He settled on a figure, 6.5 percent unemployment, as the threshold that would guide his actions.

How central bankers have got it wrong

If you asked someone to list the chief qualities needed to be a good central banker I assume that the list may include: good communicator, wise, attention to detail, clear thinking, credibility, and good with numbers.  However, in recent months these qualities have been sadly lacking, most notably last week when the Federal Reserve wrong-footed the markets and failed to start tapering its enormous QE programme.

The market had expected asset purchases to be tapered because: 1, Ben Bernanke had dropped fairly big hints at his June press conference that tapering was likely to take place sooner rather than later and 2, because the unemployment rate has consistently declined all year and if it continues moving in this direction then it could hit the Fed’s 6.5% target rate in the coming months.

Roll up, roll up – welcome to the great taper farce

We are at the stage of the financial cycle where central banks turn into circuses and central bankers become the circus performers. The market is transfixed by the show, watching every move and trying to anticipate what trick or shock will come next.

What is interesting about this particular circus is that the Ringmaster is about to leave, their replacement is turning into a whole new show of its own.

Ben Bernanke could teach the EU a thing or two

Photo

By Kathleen Brooks. The opinions expressed are her own.

Markets thrive on certainty. Anything that smacks of uncertainty, fence-sitting or indecision will lead to market turbulence, as investors punish those who don’t tell them how it is.

This is exactly what we are seeing in Europe right now. The markets are losing patience with the EU’s inability to come up with a credible plan to fight the sovereign debt crisis and that is why it is escalating at an alarming rate.

Bernanke steps up to scrutiny

-Kathleen Brooks is research director at forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.- U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke speaks at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta 2011 Financial Markets Conference in Stone Mountain, Georgia, April 4, 2011. REUTERS/Tami Chappell

While ECB head Jean Claude Trichet is nearing his final post-policy decision press conferences – he retires in October – on the 27 April the Fed’s Ben Bernanke will be stepping up to the podium for his first.

Did the Fed catastrophically mis-time QE2?

USAThe sternest criticism of QE2 is the way it pumped up asset prices like commodities in recent months without making much of an impact on U.S. economic growth. Rising fuel and food costs have weighed on inflation everywhere from emerging markets to the UK. But this criticism might step up a gear if Middle East tensions lead to a spike in oil prices and the Fed tries to protect growth using a similarly blunt tool as QE2.

The political crisis in the Middle East has been the game-changer for the global economic outlook in the past couple of weeks.  In just five days WTI oil (U.S. crude) jumped $10, and Brent (European oil) surged to within touching distance of $120 per barrel. This showed us what fear is like: since the 1970’s each recession has been preceded by an oil price shock. You don’t need much more evidence than this to see the extremely close relationship between oil and growth especially in the U.S., the largest consumer of crude in the world.

What if the U.S. labour market never returns to “normal”?

-Kathleen Brooks is research director at forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own.-

USA-ECONOMY/JOBSWhile the investment community trudged through the snow-fogged January labour market report, the only glimmer of hope was the fall in the unemployment rate to 9 per cent from 9.4 per cent in December. But while investors grabbed that as a sign that the economic recovery in the U.S. was back on track, the data is unlikely to have cheered Federal Reserve chief Ben Bernanke.

Has QE2 worked?

– Kathleen Brooks is research director at forex.com. The opinions expressed are her own. –

Ever since the U.S. Central Bank formally announced its second round of quantitative easing back in November, bond yields have trended higher. Ten-year Treasury yields have jumped by 100 basis points and are back at levels last reached in May 2010. Higher yields underpinned the dollar, which has risen by more than 5 percent over the same time period. So what does this tell us about the market, and has the Fed’s grand plan actually backfired?

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