MacroScope

A question of liquidity

The Federal Reserve’s decision to keep printing dollars at an unchanged rate, mirrored by the Bank of Japan sticking with its massive stimulus programme, should have surprised nobody.

But markets seem marginally discomfited, interpreting the Fed’s statement as sounding a little less alarmed about the state of the U.S. recovery than some had expected and maybe hastening Taper Day. European stocks are expected to pull back from a five-year high but this is really the financial equivalent of “How many angels can dance on the head of a pin”. The Fed’s message was little changed bar removing a reference to tighter financing conditions.

However, the top central banks have sent a signal that they think all is not yet well with the world – the Fed, BOJ, European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Canada and Swiss National Bank have just announced they will make permanent their array of currency swap arrangements to provide a “prudent liquidity backstop” indefinitely.

On the liquidity front, ECB policymaker Ewald Nowotny has stated that more will be made available to euro zone banks as the more than 1 trillion euros of cheap long-term loans issued late in 2011 and 2012 expire. He didn’t specify what that would entail. ECB board members Carlos Costa and Erkki Liikanen are speaking later.

We reported earlier this week that there are three trains of thought within the ECB about what policy move, if any, to make next. Some policymakers want to consider an interest rate cut, some to keep the option open of another long-term liquidity splurge for the banks a la last year’s LTRO and others in  the “core” euro zone don’t want any policy shift at all. Nowotny has said there is not much that can be done to curb a resurgent euro.

A Marshall Plan for Greece

The spectacular failure of “expansionary austerity” policies has set Greece on a path worse than the Great Depression, according to a study from the Levy Economics Institute of Bard College.

Using their newly-constructed macroeconomic model for Greece, the Levy scholars recommend a recovery strategy similar to the Marshall Plan to increase public consumption and investment.

“A Marshall-type recovery plan directed at public consumption and investment is realistic and has worked in the past,” the authors of the report said.

Fed on guard over low U.S. savings rate

As Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke delivered what may have been his last testimony on monetary policy before Congress, most of the world’s attention was focused on what hints he might give about the timing of an eventual reduction in the pace of asset purchases.

Tucked in the actual semi-annual monetary policy report Bernanke delivered to lawmakers on Capitol Hill was a little-noticed reference to growing worries about the potential for an extended period of low savings, associated in part with long-stagnant wages, to thwart long-run economic progress.

Total U.S. net national saving – that is, the saving of U.S. households, businesses, and governments, net of depreciation charges – remains extremely low by historical standards.

On fiscal ledge, corporate gain may be household’s pain

It doesn’t sound sustainable but, at least in coming months, businesses look set to keep booming even as consumers come under pressure – in line with the recent trend. That’s because the economic hit from the partial deal on the fiscal cliff will hurt salaried workers disproportionately, says Steven Ricchiuto, chief economist at Mizuho.

He writes:

Although the worst of the fiscal cliff has been avoided, the compromise is not macroeconomic neutral. Our calculations, in fact, suggest that the drag created by the reversal of the payroll tax cut and the various tax hikes on upper income households will cut real GDP by upwards of 0.5% to 1% from our preliminary 1.5% to 2% forecast.

Real GDP in the range of 0.5% to 1.5% this year implies that corporate profit growth will come at the expense of the wage earner. Moreover, the earnings focus assures a larger share of national income will accrue to the corporate sector. This implies another year of limited employment gains.

What do Americans really want?

Judging by the heated political rhetoric, you would think there is a great divide in America over the proper role of government. The drama is played out in battles over budgetary policy where one side wants low taxes and small government, and the other favors taxing the rich to pay for government programs.

Interestingly Americans, when faced with making the tough fiscal choices themselves, are remarkably pragmatic.

The Committee for a Responsible Budget since 2010 has invited people to go to its website and figure out how they would cut the U.S. budget debt load, which is fast approaching 100 percent of GDP. They must make specific choices, such as whether to cut farm subsidies or Social Security payments and what tax rates to impose.

from Summit Notebook:

Ritholtz: I zig when everybody zags

INVESTMENT-SUMMIT/RITHOLTZ

The U.S. economy is experiencing an ongoing but slow recovery, says Barry Ritholtz, director of equity research at Fusion IQ. But that's not stopping him from enjoying discounted prices in a low-inflation environment, at least when it comes to his personal spending habits. The world is on sale if you've got the money to spend, he told the Reuters Investment Outlook summit in New York when asked, for example, if he might spend less while on a vacation or forego a purchase or two.

"I am an enormous counter-cyclical spender. At the top of the bull market I don't want to buy anything. I am a seller into a bull market. We have been buying a ton of stuff over the past year. We got two new cars long before the May.... so we picked up two new cars. We're doing work on the house. We're adding a kitchen. I got my wife a very lovely birthday gift. She got me a very lovely birthday gift. We've been buying artwork. We've buying jewelry. I love to buy stuff when it is on sale. I hate to buy top dollar for it.

"So, we just were in the Cayman Islands on vacation some time ago. We were in Aruba back in December. I'm heading to Vancouver in July and probably take a week or two in the Hamptons. I'm thrilled to spend money in this environment.

Watch out for the G20 spin

Be careful this week about buying wholeheartedy into any G20-related spin about supposedly savvy, free-spending Britain and America doing more to combat the world economic crisis than supposedly stubborn, overly cautious Germany and France. The actual figures show it is much more complex than that.

A Reuters calculation on discretionary fiscal stumuli and the International Monetary Fund’s assessment show that, if anything, Britain is the significant laggard and that German spending almost matches the United States over the next two years. Here are the IMF’s numbers (% of GDP):

                                                          2009                     2010