MacroScope

Curse of the front-runner a bad omen for Fed contender Yellen?

The buzz on who will replace Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman has grown this year and amplified recently with talk of Lawrence Summers as a real possibility. There is also lingering speculation over Timothy Geithner, another previous U.S. Treasury Secretary, and former Fed Vice Chair Roger Ferguson among others as possible successors. Bernanke has provided no hint he wants to stay for a third term.

But above the din the central bank’s current vice chair, Janet Yellen, has remained the front-runner. Her deep experience and implicit policy continuity has crowned her the heir apparent until proven otherwise. A Reuters poll of economists showed Yellen was seen as far and away the most likely candidate.

Yet this is a familiar plot that has played out in other Western countries over the past year – with a shock climactic twist. New Zealand, Britain and Canada have all pulled the rug out from under the presumed front-runner and named a surprise new head of their respective central banks. And perhaps most worryingly for Yellen, in each case the overlooked candidate was the bank’s No. 2 official.

Graeme Wheeler was a U.S.-based consultant last June when he was named governor of the Reserve Bank of New Zealand, cancelling the nomination party planned for RBNZ’s deputy governor Grant Spencer. In November Britain raised eyebrows worldwide when it ignored Bank of England Deputy Governor Paul Tucker and instead named Mark Carney, who was then chief of the Bank of Canada, to be the first non-British head of the BoE. And then in May Canada itself tapped an outsider, Stephen Poloz, a former BoC official who at the time headed an import-loan organization, as its top monetary policymaker. In that case, senior BoC deputy Tiff Macklem was left in the lurch.

A meaningless pattern? Perhaps. But at the very least another wildcard in Washington as President Barack Obama decides who to nominate at the Fed. Time will tell whether the United States breaks from the plot.

Morgan Stanley cuts second quarter U.S. GDP forecast to 0.3 percent

The surprising weakness in June housing starts is probably only temporary, according to Morgan Stanley economist Ted Wieseman, but the softness in June nonetheless prompted him to cut Morgan Stanley’s Q2 GDP estimate to 0.3 percent from 0.4 percent.

After a 9.4 percent pullback from the February cycle high, single-family starts are now running far below the pace of new home sales. Unless sales roll over — which was certainly not the message from the surging homebuilders’ survey — supply of unsold new homes will fall to record lows in coming months, likely spurring a sharp renewed pickup in new home construction.

Incorporating the June softness, however, Morgan Stanley cuts its forecast for Q2 residential investment to +18.9 percent from +20.3 percent, which shaved 0.1 percentage point off the firm’s second quarter growth estimate. U.S. GDP growth averaged just 1.1 percent in the fourth and first quarters. Benchmark revisions will make the upcoming batch of growth figures harder to read than usual.

Regarding second quarter GDP, beware the benchmark revisions!

If there ever was a time to discount estimates of an advance GDP report, now is the time, says Joseph LaVorgna, chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank Securities. That’s because the first snapshot of U.S. Q2 GDP growth, due out on July 31, will occur alongside the Bureau of Economic Analysis’ (BEA) comprehensive benchmark revisions.

These revisions occur about once every five years and go back to the beginning of GDP reporting in 1929. The BEA will also incorporate research and development and royalties from film, television, literature and music into the GDP accounts. The net effect could be a 3 percent upward revision to the level of output.

However, of greater significance will be the change in growth, rather than the outright level, LaVorgna said.

Raskin’s warning: ‘Shouldn’t pretend’ Fed capital rules are a panacea

Post corrected to show Brooksley Born is a former head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) not a former Fed board governor.

Underlying the Federal Reserve recent announcement on new capital rules was a general sense of “mission accomplished.” The U.S. central bank, also a key financial regulator, has finally implemented requirements that it says could help prevent a repeat of the 2008 banking meltdown by forcing Wall Street firms to rely less heavily on debt, thereby making them less vulnerable during times of stress.

As Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke put it in his opening remarks:

Today’s meeting marks an important step in the board’s efforts to enhance the resilience of the U.S. banking system and to promote broader financial stability.

Fear the Septaper

Credit to Barclays economists for coining the term ‘Septaper’

A solid U.S. employment report for June appears to have cemented market expectations that the Fed will begin to reduce the pace of its bond-buying stimulus in September.  Average employment growth for the last six months is now officially above 200,000 per month.

Never mind that, even at this rate, it would take another 11 months for the job market to reach its pre-recession levels – and that’s not counting the population growth since then.

John Brady, managing director at R.J. O’Brian & Associates in Chicago, nails the market’s sentiment:

U.S. minimum wage hike would offer short-term economic stimulus: Chicago Fed

President Barack Obama proposed a hike in the U.S. minimum wage during his State of the Union Address in February. Since then, we haven’t really heard very much about the proposal. That’s too bad for a U.S. economy that could still use a bit of a boost, according to new research.

A paper from the Chicago Fed finds that, while there might be little impact on long-term growth prospects from a higher minimum wage, the measure could add as much as 0.3 percentage point to gross domestic product in the short-run. That’s not insignificant for an economy that expanded at a soft annualized rate of just 1.1 percent over the last two quarters.

This is how the authors summarize their findings:

A federal minimum wage hike would boost the real income and spending of minimum wage households. The impact could be sufficient to offset increasing  consumer prices and declining real spending by most non-minimum-wage households and, therefore, lead to an increase in aggregate household spending. The authors calculate that a $1.75 hike in the hourly federal minimum wage could increase the level of real gross domestic product (GDP) by up to 0.3 percentage points in the near term, but with virtually no effect in the long term.

Broken (record) jobless data: Euro zone unemployment stuck at all-time high

Surprise! Euro zone unemployment was stuck at record high of 12.2 percent in May, with the number of jobless quickly climbing towards 20 million. Still, as accustomed to grim job market headlines from Europe as the world has become, it is worth perusing through the Eurostat release for some of the nuances in the figures.

For one thing, as Matthew Phillips notes, Spain’s unemployment crisis is now officially more dire than Greece’s – and that’s saying something.

Also, the figures remind us just how disparate conditions are across different parts of the currency union. While Spanish and Greek unemployment is hovering just below 27 percent, the jobless rate in Austria, the region’s lowest, is 4.7 percent.

Full blown damage control?

Call it the great wagon circling.

Central bankers are talking tough in the face of the wild gyrations in financial markets. But it’s becoming increasingly clear they are sweating – and drawing up contingency plans to assuage the panic that’s taken hold since Chairman Ben Bernanke last week sketched out the Fed’s plan for winding down its QE3 bond-buying program. U.S. policymakers in particular must have predicted investors would react strongly. But now that longer-term borrowing costs have spiked to near a two-year high, they look to be entering full-blown damage control.

Here’s Richard Fisher, head of the Dallas Fed, speaking to reporters in London on Monday:

I’m not surprised by market volatility – markets are manic depressive mechanisms… Collectively we will be tested. We need to expect a market reaction… Even if we reach a situation this year where we dial back (stimulus), we will still be running an accommodative policy.

In his own words: Fed’s Bullard explains dovish dissent

The following is a statement from the St. Louis Fed following the decision by its president, James Bullard, to dissent from the U.S. central bank’s decision to signal a looming reduction in its bond-buying stimulus program:

Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis President James Bullard dissented with the Federal Open Market Committee decision announced on June 19, 2013.  In his view, the Committee should have more strongly signaled its willingness to defend its inflation target of 2 percent in light of recent low inflation readings.  Inflation in the U.S. has surprised on the downside during 2013.  Measured as the percent change from one year earlier, the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) headline inflation rate is running below 1 percent, and the PCE core inflation rate is close to 1 percent.  President Bullard believes that to maintain credibility, the Committee must defend its inflation target when inflation is below target as well as when it is above target.

President Bullard also felt that the Committee’s decision to authorize the Chairman to lay out a more elaborate plan for reducing the pace of asset purchases was inappropriately timed.  The Committee was, through the Summary of Economic Projections process, marking down its assessment of both real GDP growth and inflation for 2013, and yet simultaneously announcing that less accommodative policy may be in store.  President Bullard felt that a more prudent approach would be to wait for more tangible signs that the economy was strengthening and that inflation was on a path to return toward target before making such an announcement.

The new reality

The Federal Reserve has spoken and the message seems pretty clear – unless the U.S. economy takes a turn for the worse the pace of money creation will be slowed before the year is out and it will be stopped by mid-2014.

That’s a fairly tight time frame, although interest rates won’t rise for some time after that, and it doesn’t take a crystal ball to see a further bout of market volatility is likely, centred again on emerging markets which could suffer big portfolio investment outflows as U.S. bond yields climb.

The markets certainly don’t seem confused, just alarmed. The German Bund future has plummeted by nearly a point and a half to its lowest point since February, mirroring the spike in U.S. Treasury yields. European stocks shed 1.5 percent at the start.