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Kudos to the Bank of Japan. Its heroic campaign to water down the yen has borne fruit. The Japanese may not have noticed it because it is not indicated in bold red kanji on their bank and brokerage statements, and so they might not give their Bank of Japandemonium full credit for it, but about 20% of their magnificent wealth has gone up in smoke in 2013. And in 2014, more of it will go up in smoke – according to the plan of Abenomics.
What folks do notice is that goods and services keep getting more expensive. Inflation has become reality. The scourge that has so successfully hallowed out the American middle class has arrived in Japan. The consumer price index rose 1.6% in December from a year earlier. While prices of services edged up 0.6%, prices of goods jumped 2.6%.
It’s hitting households. In December, their average income was up 0.3% in nominal terms from a year earlier. But adjusted for inflation – this is where the full benefits of Abenomics kick in – average income dropped 1.7%. Real disposable income dropped 2.1%.
Abenomics is tightening their belts. But hey, they voted for this illustrious program. So they’re not revolting just yet. But they’re thinking twice before they extract with infinite care their pristine and beloved 10,000-yen notes from their wallets. And inflation-adjusted consumption expenditures – excluding housing, purchase of vehicles, money gifts, and remittances – dropped 2.3%.
But purchases of durable goods have been soaring. Everyone is front-loading big ticket items ahead of April 1, when the very broad-based consumption tax will be hiked from 5% to 8%. Pulling major expenditures forward a few months or even a year or so is the equivalent of obtaining a guaranteed 3% tax-free return on investment. That’s huge in a country where interest rates on CDs are so close to zero that you can’t tell the difference and where even crappy 10-year Japanese Government Bonds yield 0.62%. It’s a powerful motivation.
And it has turned into a frenzy. In December, households purchased 32.2% more in durable goods than the same month a year earlier, in November 25.2%, in October 40.4%. These front-loaded purchases have been goosing the economy in late 2013. But shortly before April 1, they will grind to a halt. The Japanese have been through this before.
In 1996, after the consumption tax hike from 3% to 5% was passed and scheduled to take effect on April 1, 1997, consumers and businesses went on a buying binge of big-ticket items to dodge the extra 2% in taxes. The economy boomed. But it ended in an enormous hangover. In the spring 1997, as the tax hike took effect, business and consumer spending ground to a halt, and the economy skittered into a nasty recession that lasted a year and a half!
First indications of a repeat performance are already visible. The Japan Automobile Manufacturers Association (JAMA) forecast last week that sales of automobiles, after an already lousy 2013, would plunge 9.8% this year to 4.85 million units, the lowest since 2011 when the earthquake and tsunami laid waste to car purchases.
In response, automakers will curtail production for domestic sales. Other makers of durable goods – those that still manufacture in Japan – will prepare for the hangover in a similar manner. Housing and construction will get hit. Retailers will get hit too. During the last consumption tax hike, many large retailers tried to keep their chin above water by not passing the 2% tax hike on to their customers but shove it backwards up the pipeline to their suppliers. This time, having learned its lesson, the government is insisting on inflation, and it passed legislation last year that would force retailers to stick their customers with an across-the-board 3% price increase.
In 2014, the hangover will be even worse than in 1997. Businesses and consumers are dodging a hike of three percentage points, not two percentage points. Hence, the motivation to front-load is even stronger, the payoff greater, and the subsequent falloff steeper. This, on top of the already toxic concoction of stagnant wages and rising prices. Oh, and the plight of the retirees, whose savings and income streams are gradually getting eaten up by inflation. The glories of Abenomics.
But there are beneficiaries. Japan Inc. benefits from lower cost of labor. The government, without having to reform its drunken ways, might somehow be able to keep its out-of-control deficits and its mountain of debt from blowing up in the immediate future. Throughout, the Bank of Japan, which is buying up enough government bonds to monetize the entire deficit plus part of the mountain of existing debt, will remain in control of the government bond market, what little is left of it – even if it has to buy the last bond that isn’t totally nailed down. But for the real economy the party is now ending, and by spring, a pounding hangover will set in.
According to Japan’s state religion of Abenomics, devaluing the yen would boost exports and cut imports. The resulting trade surplus would jumpstart the economy and induce Japan Inc. to invest at home. It would save Japan. But the opposite is happening. Read…. Why Japan’s Trade Fiasco Worries Me So Much
The fifth anniversary of Zero Hedge is just around the corner, and so, for the fifth year in a row we continue our tradition of summarizing what you, our readers, found to be the most relevant, exciting, and actionable news of the year, determined objectively by the number of page views. Those eager for a brief stroll down memory lane of prior years can do so at their leisure, by going back in time to our top articles of 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012. For everyone else, without further ado, these are the articles that readers found to be the most popular posts of the past 365 days.
- In 25th place, with just over 100k reads, was the extended profile of the puppetmaster of the biggest geopolitical event of 2013, the false flag-driven Syran conflict which nearly escalated into the world’s first YouTube “justified” world war pitching the US-led west against the Russia-led east, the Saudi intelligence chief: Prince Bandar, exposed in “Meet Saudi Arabia’s Bandar bin Sultan: The Puppetmaster Behind The Syrian War.” The war was avoided with a last minute gambit by Putin, which lead to a historic detente between the US and Iran, as well as an unprecedented breakdown in US relations with its long-time middle east allies Saudi Arabia and Israel. Look for the Middle East to make geopolitical headlines in the new year since the underlying issue – Europe’s dependence on Gazprom – remains entirely unresolved.
- The 24th most popular article hardly needs an explanation: “The Chinese Don’t Want Dollars Anymore, They Want Gold” – London’s Gold Vaults Are Empty: This Is Why.” The only comment here is that like above, the trend of gold’s transfer from West to East, started in earnest in late 2012, and peaking in 2013, is sure to continue in 2014 when the liquidation of paper gold in Western capital markets will afford Chinese buyers with ever more attractive prices at which to purchase physical gold
- In 23rd spot an “Unidentified Navy Officer summed it all up” when he said that “I didn’t join the navy to fight for Al Qaeda in a Syrian civil war.” It is understandable why over 106,000 people agreed with the message
- The 22nd most popular article looked at “What Happened The Last Time We Saw Gold Drop Like This?” which compared the fall in the price of gold in 2013 to previous historic occasions, most notably the months just before the collapse of Lehman. For now, courtesy of the $170 billion in liquidity injected by the Fed and the BOJ, “this time has proven different.” But with the Fed now tapering, how much longer will the illusion persist? We, like everyone else, look to 2014 for the answer.
- With 108k views, the 21st most read post of 2013 revealed the “Photos And Video Of the Boston Bombing Suspects“, culminating the most violent terrorist event in years, and one which brought back vivid memories of the events from September 11
- It may seem like a distant memory now, but the shocking announcement from mid-March in which Cypriot deposits were confiscated without a warning, reverberated across Europe and all insolvent banking systems, especially since it is now the blueprint of how banks will impair depositors going forward. Then again, with over 112k reads of our summary “For Everyone Shocked By What Just Happened… And Why This Is Just The Beginning” we reminded our readers that the deposit confiscation event of 2013 was predicted on these pages nearly two years earlier, and explained why, indeed, this is just the beginning of the great balance sheet rebalancing. For now Europe has managed to hide its hundreds of billions in bad loans under the couch; 2014 will be a different story. Look for the Cyprus “blueprint” to see a much wider acceptance in the coming year.
- In 19th spot, mother nature reminded everyone with a “Stunning Time-Lapse Video Of 2-Mile Wide Oklahoma Tornado” that despite their sense of omnipotence, the central planners better pray each and every day that in a world priced to beyond perfection, that there are no material natural disasters. Because 10 out of 10 times, a liquidity tsunami generated from a central bank’s printer is powerless to withstand a natural one, as the Fukushima catastrophe reminds us each and every day with headlines of its ever deteriorating radiation “containment.”
- A long-time favorite of readers, Kyle Bass’ Japan thesis came one step closer to fruition when earlier this year Japan went all in on its great reflation experiment, described in “Kyle Bass Warns The ‘AIG’ Of The World Is Back“, a presentation seen by over 114K readers. So far Abenomics has been a failure with wages contracting, import food and energy prices soaring, a record trade deficit (yes, Abenomics was supposed to boost net exports), and of course Fukushima in the background, but for now everyone has a rampaging Nikkei to be easily distracted by. With Abe’s popularity finally tumbling, will his second tenure as Prime Minister be cut short, and would his departure finally force Japan to cross the event horizon of no return? This is but another question which we hope 2014 will answer.
- In 17th spot, we revealed some very disturbing trends in US energy consumption with “These Charts Better Not Reflect The True State Of The US Economy.” Because while the shale revolution may have revealed a (transitory) marginal source of oil, what remains unknown is why demand for energy in the US economy is tumbling in parallel. Unless, of course, the narrative about a US recovery has been a lie from the beginning…
- With 121k reads, in the 16th top spot another post that needs no explanation was “Stunning Images From China: Ten Thousand People Waiting In Line To Buy Gold“. Perhaps the only article that could beat this one is “Ten thousand hedge fund managers waiting in line to sell GLD”
- There are stereotypes about others, and then there are stereotypes about America. Which perhaps explains why over 121k people eagerly read “10 Things Most Americans Don’t Know About America.” We can only hope they learned something.
- It may be forgotten now, but the biggest story of early 2013 was the Bundesbank’s shocking announcement in mid-January that it would proceed to repatriate some 700 tons of its gold held in central bank vaults in New York and Paris. Of course, the events described in “It Begins: Bundesbank To Commence Repatriating Gold From New York Fed” and read by 127k people, could be seen coming by Zero Hedge readers from a mile away: after all it was this website that repeatedly warned in late 2012 about the trials and tribulations that had surrounded the official German gold hoard. We can only hope that we were in some part responsible for the Buba’s correct decision to repatriate its gold. Then again, as we updated last week, having collected only 37 tons of gold in one year (out of 700), Germany will really have to pick up the pace if it hopes to have recourse to its hard currency before it is no longer a matter of convenience but one of survival.
- The 13th top article of the year was the release of the list with “132 Names Who Pulled Cyprus Deposits Ahead Of “Confiscation Day.” It appeared the Cyprus deposit confiscation was not a complete secret to everyone, but then again the Animal Farm “new normal” justice in which some are more equal than others is hardly a surprise to anyone these days.
- And speaking of confiscation, the 12th most read article of 2013, with 131k views was “Poland Confiscates Half Of Private Pension Funds To “Cut” Sovereign Debt Load.” It would appear that wealth transfer, first voluntary and then, not so much, will be an increasingly prevalent theme of the “recovery”…
- But the biggest stunner in this category was the impromptu announcement itself when on March 16, “Europe Does It Again: Cyprus Depositor Haircut “Bailout” Turns Into Saver “Panic”, Frozen Assets, Bank Runs, Broken ATMs.” Don’t worry though: Europe is now fixed, it is recovering, and, if one believes the continent’s unelected leaders, all shall forever be well. We are confident 2014 will show otherwise.
- The 10th most read article in 2013 dealt with the bedrock of the New Normal – the dollar’s reserve currency status, and rather, its gradual disintegration as China increasingly makes itself heard. It made itself heard loud and clear to the 142k readers who clicked on “Thanks, World Reserve Currency, But No Thanks: Australia And China To Enable Direct Currency Convertibility.” The loss of USD-reserve status will be yet another theme to keep a close eye on in 2014 and onward.
- Showing just how reliant on welfare the US has become was top article #9 in which a leaked USDA memo hinted of a “Foodstamp Program Shutdown Imminent” which grabbed the attention of 148k readers. For now SNAP as it is better known has been merely “tapered”, not fully shut down, although ensuing Walmart stampedes driven by EBT card glitches provided a glimpse of just had bad things could be if indeed nearly 50 million Americans suddenly found themselves without government backstops
- The troubles of the poor were hardly an issue for the 8th most popular article of 2013 in which we asked if “The Russians Have Already Quietly Withdrawn All Their Cash From Cyprus?” Once again it was the middle class that got shafted, while those who could fly in and out on private jets appear to have gotten away unscathed. This is certainly the prevailing theme of the past five years and one which will accelerate into the future.
- 152k people read the breaking news from April when “Large Explosions Reported At Boston Marathon; Numerous Injuries And Casualties.” The focal point of all watercooler talk for the next several weeks, the analogies to terrorist attacks in the past were unavoidable even if the motivations behind the attacks turned out to be far less nefarious and organized than initially feared.
- 2013 was the year in which the largest US city (to date) filed bankruptcy. However it was “25 Facts About The Fall Of Detroit That Will Leave You Shaking Your Head” that was read by 154k people, that made this the 6th most popular article of 2013.
- 2013 was also the year in which the stock market finally took out its previous, 2007 highs, driven entirely by the unprecedented expansion of both the Fed’s and the Bank of Japan’s balance sheets. What over 163k found curious, however, were the other economic comparisons to “The Last Time The Dow Was Here…” Needless to say, there is nothing in the economy that would justify a market at the current levels, or even levels far lower, if it were only up to the economy. Luckily, there Fed is always there to lend a helping hand. And what can possibly go wrong…
- 2013 was not only the year of the Fed’s QEternity: it was also the year in which Japan went all in with its own reflation experiment. However, all will be for nothing unless the troubling facts revealed in “Why Have Young People In Japan Stopped Having Sex?” remain unresolved. Because at its core, Japan’s crisis is a demographic one, and at the current pace of social aging, there will be no Japan left in several decades. Unfortunately for Kuroda, he can’t print babies.
- The third most popular article of 2013 was posted almost exactly a year ago, when it “Put America’s Tax Hike In Perspective.” Over 171k people realized just how meaningless in the grand scheme of things was America’s grand bargain achieved last year at this time, over much stock market huffing and puffing. Then again, the fact that all major decisions in the US are put in the can that is later kicked down the street is also no news to anyone. The only thing in the here and now is theatrics, theatrics and more theatrics…
- The second most popular post of 2013, with nearly 200k reads, was our succinct summary of the US “recovery” laid out in “People Not In Labor Force Soar By 663,000 To 90 Million, Labor Force Participation Rate At 1979 Levels.” We are happy that by now everyone has finally understood that plunging unemployment at the expense of a collapsing work force is nothing to be proud about.
- And in the top spot, with nearly 300k reads, our most read article was the satirical, sarcastic look at the Egyptian counterrevolution titled “Egyptians Love Us For Our Freedom.” Turns out…they don’t. But they certainly appreciate the irony of two-faced, hypocritical US foreign policy which was humiliated and left in tatters both in Egypt and in every other place around the globe where either Hillary Clinton or John Kerry came, saw and promptly departed in the past year.
So what to make of the world as we enter 2014?
With nearly $2 trillion in emergency liquidity pumped by the world’s two largest central banks – more than has been injected ever before – the entire world is floating on an ocean of excess liquidity, which for now has succeeded in masking just how ugly the truth beneath the calm surface is. Sooner or later, the tide comes out, as it always does, and the naked are revealed for all to see. However, this time it will be the very final backstoppers of the status quo regime, the central banking emperors of the New Normal, who are finally exposed as wearing absolutely nothing. What happens then, and when that happens, is anyone’s guess. We, however, will be there to document every aspect of it.
Finally, and as always, we wish all our readers the best of luck and success in 2014, and leave everyone with a promise of what we can be 100% sure of: Zero Hedge will be there each and every day helping readers expose, unravel and comprehend the fallacy, fiction, fraud and farce that the system is reduced to (ab)using each and every day just to keep the grand tragicomedy going for at least one more day.
By Roger Bootle
We can all breathe a sigh of relief that the world is not going to come to an end as a result of a default by the US government. Well, for now, anyway. But this does not mean that debt problems have gone away. Indeed, across the Pacific a serious debt problem is still building in Japan.
Whereas the US debt crisis has been triggered by a disagreement between Democrats and Republicans over the role of the state in the economy and society, and specifically over “Obamacare”, Japan’s debt problem is a slow burner.
As a share of GDP, government debt has been growing since the early 1990s. This is the result of the long-running weakness of economic growth, repeated fiscal stimulus packages and a long period in which the overall price level has stagnated or fallen. Japan has managed to muddle through, but it now looks as though it is close to a tipping point.
The scale of the problem is staggering. Japan’s net government debt is about 140pc of GDP. This is way ahead of the US, which is on 87pc, and not that far below Greece. What’s more, it is easy to see the ratio increasing further. The IMF expects net debt to rise to 148pc of GDP over the next five years. In fact, if the economy performs badly, inflation remains low or borrowing costs rise, debt could easily follow an explosive path, with the ratio quickly rising towards 300pc of GDP.
So what to do? If Japan followed anything like this path, then some form of default would eventually become inevitable. Accordingly, why not cut the whole process short and get the thing over and done with by defaulting now?
Quite apart from all the usual objections to default, Japan suffers from another major obstacle, namely that its debt is overwhelmingly held by Japanese financial institutions, including banks. A default would land the financial sector with massive losses and could cause a catastrophic financial crisis.
The orthodox way to tackle debt is to impose austerity via cuts to government spending or increases in taxes. In fact, Japan will increase its consumption tax in April and quite considerable deficit reduction is promised for the next few years.
But this runs into two problems that are familiar from a European perspective. First, such austerity is not popular and the politicians in Japan may yet baulk at the scale of the tightening to be imposed.
Second, austerity tends to reduce GDP – even though George Osborne may believe that it hasn’t done so in the UK. If it does reduce GDP, then the debt to GDP ratio would probably rise.
Faster economic growth would help but is in practice difficult to achieve. The government is pursuing some supposedly radical structural reforms but it is unlikely that, even if these are pushed through, they will have much of an impact soon enough. And in trying to grow its way out of the debt problem, unlike America, Japan faces a huge demographic hurdle. It simply isn’t making enough Japanese. The size of the workforce is already falling and will continue to do so for decades.
The way out for Japan is to try to engineer a higher rate of inflation, perhaps much higher than the current 2pc target. For any given rate of increase of real GDP this would give a higher rate of growth of nominal GDP, that is to say, expressed in money terms. With debt fixed in money terms this would, other things being equal, bring down the debt to GDP ratio.
Admittedly, other things may not be equal. The danger is that markets would force up the rate of interest on Japanese debt and thereby increase the amounts that the government had to pay out in debt interest. That could easily offset the effect of higher inflation.
In fact, it could lead to the debt ratio ending up higher. Yet in the Japanese case, this is unlikely.
The Bank of Japan would continue to hold short-term interest rates at close to zero for several years. That would ensure that the rates on short-term debt remained subdued. Moreover, it would continue to buy huge quantities of Japanese government debt. It might also consider obliging financial institutions to hold extra amounts of government debt.
How would Japan achieve higher inflation? Quantitative easing (QE), or printing money, as it is colloquially known, will eventually give you higher inflation – provided that you do it on sufficient scale. This is what the Japanese central bank now seems prepared to do.
A fall of the yen would be a crucial part of the mechanism by which inflation moved higher.
This is what has happened recently. Japanese inflation has risen to 0.9pc, but almost wholly as a result of the fall of the yen from the high 70s to the dollar to about 100. There has been hardly any domestically generated inflation. But if the yen continued to weaken, that would surely follow.
Throughout the past 30 years, Japan has been a testing ground both for problems and their possible solutions that have appeared later in the West. It experienced a bubble economy in the late 1980s and then experienced the pain of a long drawn-out balance sheet recession, brought on by the collapse of asset prices and the drying up of credit.
It also went through a slow dragging deflation of consumer prices before anyone in the West thought that this was an issue. And for some time now it has faced the problems caused by an ageing and falling population.
Could it also show the way on the inflation solution to the debt problem which continues to bedevil so many countries in the West? For the UK, a deliberate embrace of higher inflation remains only a risk rather than a probability. For we are in a very different position from Japan. Our debt ratio is nowhere near as high and our potential to grow our way out of the problem is much greater, not least due to our more favourable demographic prospects. The same is true for the US.
But there are several members of the eurozone for whom this is not true. Greece and Italy spring to mind. Unless their debt is “forgiven”, some form of default appears inevitable.
While they remain in the euro, of course, they cannot default through inflation because they do not control their own monetary policy.
But if they were to leave the euro, the Japanese experience might be highly influential.
Roger Bootle is managing director of Capital Economics email@example.com
About three weeks ago, I speculated that the bottom on interest rates had come and gone, and interest rates were rising.
This now seems more and more certain. Because of Abenomics, yields on Japanese government bonds have shot up and set off an ugly chain reaction. Bond prices are falling and yields are rising. Rather quickly, I might add.
Take a look at these charts of yields for selected Canadian government bonds. Pay extra attention to the longer-term bonds.
First, marketable bonds. The average yield on 1-3 year bonds:
Now 3-to-5 year bonds:
Here’s the average for 10+ year bonds:
Now the benchmark bonds.
First, the 2-year:
Long-term benchmark bonds:
Here’s the long-term real return bond yield:
You can draw your own conclusions from this data, I’m sure.
It seems US sailors aren’t the only ones who three short years after the Fukushima disaster are being stricken by cancers and other radiation-induced diseases. For once, the media blackout surrounding the Japanese nuclear power plant tragedy appears to have crumbled, and at least a portion of the truth has been revealed. Hong Kong’s SCMP reports that fifty-nine young people in Fukushima prefecture have been diagnosed with or are suspected of having thyroid cancer. Notably, all of newly diagnosed were younger than 18 at the time of the nuclear meltdown in the area in March 2011. They were identified in tests by the prefectural government, which covered 239,000 people by the end of September.
And while it is not rocket surgery to put two and two together, now that the data is in the public domain, here come the experts to explain it away.
On one hand, there are those who seemingly have not been bribed by the Abe government to “bend” reality just a bit in the name of confidence. People such as Toshihide Tsuda, a professor of epidemiology at Okayama University who has called upon the government to prepare for a possible increase in cases in the future. “The rate at which children in Fukushima prefecture have developed thyroid cancer can be called frequent, because it is several times to several tens of times higher,” Japan’s Asahi Shimbun quoted him as saying.
He compared the figures in Fukushima with cancer registration statistics throughout Japan from 1975 to 2008 that showed an annual average of five to 11 people in their late teens to early 20s developing cancer for every 1 million people.
And then come those who probably would still be touting the great job Tepco is doing in containing the worst nuclear catastrophe in history, even though Tepco itself has now admitted the exploded nuclear power plant is out of control.
Tetsuya Ohira, a professor of epidemiology at Fukushima Medical University, disagreed. It was not scientific to compare the Fukushima tests with cancer registry statistics, he argued. Scientific? Or notpolitically feasible for a prime minister who is desperate to restart domestic nuclear power plants, since Abenomics is getting monkeyhammered thanks to soaring energy and food import costs (and, among other factors, leading to a crash in Abe’s popularity rating), and any reality leaking, pardong the pun, from Fukushima will end both that ambition, and his political career prematurely.
Shockingly, a month ago, prefectural officials deemed it unlikely that the increase in suspected and confirmed cases of cancer was linked to radiation exposure. Their “logic” is that in the Chernobyl disaster of 1986, it was not until four or five years after the accident that thyroid cancer cases surged. Apparently the thought that the local cancer victims may have been subject to radiation orders of magnitude higher than Chernobyl thanks to a lying government which consistently repeated that “all is well” has not crossed anyone’s mind.
“It is known that radioactive iodine is linked to thyroid cancer. Through the intake of food, people may absorb and accumulate it inside glands,” said Dr Choi Kin, a former president of the Hong Kong Medical Association.
Children might absorb more of it than adults because they were still growing, he said, but it remained to be proven that the radioactive iodine came from the nuclear disaster instead of the normal environment.
Bottom line “experts” are divided about whether the Fukushima cancers are caused by nuclear radiation… which, perhaps, is why they are experts. As everyone else knows, a surge in thyroid cancer in a population in close proximity to an exploded power plant, can only be due to one thing: non-participation in the ponzi stock market. So start buying stocks, or else the p53 mutations are coming for you too!
The End of the Status Quo: aka. Mass Consumption
Japan: Locus of the Next Crisis?
The past five year rally in global credit was driven by liquidity flows and carry trades. Zero percent interest rates subsidized highly leveraged lending to the riskiest of sovereign borrowers. As long as the liquidity flows continued, the underlying solvency was never put into question. When liquidity flows inevitably reverse due to risk aversion, pricing of debt/credit/bonds will be based solely upon ongoing solvency of the underlying borrower. At that point in time, the Minksy Moment will arrive seemingly out of nowhere.
History’s Largest Circle Jerk
Third World wage slaves produce the goods. Over-leveraged Western consumers borrow from the wage slaves (via recurring trade deficits) to buy the goods, billionaires capture the arbitrage profits between rich and poor which they then lend to sovereign governments to service non-amortizing debts. Central Banks provide 0% liquidity to paper over the latent insolvency. All while policy-makers and the dunces at large pretend that this can go on indefinitely.
Borrowed Time and Money
While one can make an argument that the central banks have now destroyed all traditional “cycles”, including the economic “virtuous cycle“, the business cycle and even the leverage cycle, the question remains how much longer can the Fed et al defy mean reversion and all laws of nature associated with it. That said, assuming the fake market environment we find ourselves in persists for at least another year, this is what the leverage cycle would look like assuming $10 trillion in global central bank assets were a pro forma new normal.
Keep a close eye on China: it is on the cusp between the end of the leverage cycle (where as we reported over the past two days, it has been pumping bank assets at the ridiculous pace of $3.5 trillion per year) and on the verge of having its debt bubble bursting. What happens then is unclear.
Some thoughts on the above graphic from SocGen:
For the first time post-crisis, we expect advanced economies in 2014 to see a marked increase in their contribution to global growth. Emerging economies have over the past few years offered a welcome support to global growth, but this relied in part on a build-up of credit that now needs to be paid down. The hope is for advanced economies to take over the baton from the emerging economies as the main driver of global growth. The US is now poised for sustainable recovery and in Japan hopes remain that Abenomics will work. The euro area, however, continues to lag. As such the growth relay from emerging to advanced is likely to prove a bumpy process. Commodity markets will sit at the heart of this dynamic – our strategists look for range-bound markets in 2014.
This new rotation of the global leverage cycle is an integral part of our monetary policy outlook, which we discuss in greater detail in the following sections. Several features are worth noting:
Time for emerging economies to deleverage: Post crisis, emerging economies adopted accommodative economic policies to offset the collapse in demand for their output. Providing a further boost, accommodative monetary policies in advanced economies drove significant financial flows into the region. Combined, these fuelled credit expansion. With the turn in the US interest rate cycle back in the spring, external financing conditions tightened. Moreover, in a number of emerging economies, policymakers have become increasingly concerned by a build-up in leverage; this is not just a story of level, but also one of speed. As seen from our leverage cycle, we believe the emerging economies have now moved to a phase of deleveraging. Our emerging market theme, however, is not just one of a cyclical downturn. As we have highlighted on several occasions, we believe potential growth is structurally slowing and no more so than in China.
China must tame excess capacity: With NFC debt at over 150% of GDP and significant excess capacity, China is ripe for deleveraging. Already in 2013, a notable feature of our forecast has been that the Chinese authorities would resist market pressure to ease monetary policy and further fuel the credit bubble. Nonetheless, shadow bank credit has continued to expand and, with that, problems of excess capacity. China’s challenge now is to deleverage and reform. The two in many ways go hand in hand and we discuss these issues in Boxes 5 and 14. It is worth nothing here that reform in China is tantamount to removing the 100% implicit state guarantee. And looking ahead, even state-backed companies could be allowed to fail. Herein resides also a potential trigger for the risk scenario of a hard landing, should such a company failure be poorly managed and spin out of control.
Japan’s corporate sector to cut savings to invest:Investment and savings are two sides of the same coin and to secure sustainable recovery in Japan, corporations need to reduce savings and invest. The BoJ’s monetary policy is already working through the currency channel and our expectation is to see a pick-up in corporate investment next. This is not just a function of monetary policy, but also the two remaining arrows of Abenomics, namely fiscal stimulus and structural reform. We see significant opportunities medium-term from reform as discussed in Box 13. Short-term, the BoJ is poised to deliver further stimulus and we look for additional asset purchases to be announced early in the new fiscal year (commencing April 1).
US credit cycle is turning: Credit channels have been repaired, household balance sheets deleveraged and excess housing stock unwound. Combined, these lay the foundations for sustainable recovery. In 2013, fiscal tightening exerted a headwind to growth, but this is now easing allowing GDP growth to accelerate to 2.9% in 2014. For the Fed, setting the right monetary policy during this transition will be challenging. A glance at our leverage cycle suggests that the challenge as recovery gains traction over time is to avoid a build-up of excess leverage. This is not an immediate concern to our minds. Although we forecast household credit expansion, our forecast for household income growth is higher, entailing some further reduction of the household debt-to-income ratio.
UK housing credit has been boosted by government measures: Supported by policy initiatives, UK housing is staging a recovery. This is highly dependent on mortgage loan conditions and the BoE will be keen to keep rates low. We expect the Bank to lower the unemployment rate threshold on its forward guidance from 7.0% to 6.5% (and reduce the NAIRU from 6.5% to 6.0%). The hope medium-term, is that this housing-driven recovery will eventually become broader based with stronger confidence, consumption, exports, corporate investment and lower unemployment. Much will depend, however, on euro area recovery as of 2015. Longer-term, a possible UK referendum on EU membership remains a point of uncertainty.
Euro area still facing headwinds: Individual euro area economies are in very different stages on the leverage cycle. Germany is the most advanced, followed by France, Italy and Spain. For several euro area economies, financial fragmentation and fiscal austerity remain serious headwinds. 2014 will see the arrival of a Single Supervisory Mechanism. As we discuss in Box 10, progress on a Single Supervisory Mechanism continues to disappoint and our base line remains for only a gradual repair of credit channels. Moreover, structural reforms are also not progressing at the desired pace, albeit with significant variation from country to country. The danger for the euro area is to become trapped in a lost decade of very low growth and low inflation. The ECB still has options. The real game changer opportunities, however, reside with governments to deliver quantum leaps on reform – at both the euro area and national levels. For now, progress remains disappointingly slow.
Summing up our view, 2014 will thus be the first year post crisis when advanced economies make an increased contribution to global GDP growth.
* * *
One of the notable developments in the neverending China-Japan territorial sovereignty dispute over various rock formations (and potential massive natural resources located beneath them) in the East China Sea, has been China’s launch of an “air defense zone” over said disputed islands. As AP reported previously, Beijing on Saturday issued a map of the zone — which includes a cluster of islands controlled by Japan but also claimed by China — and a set of rules that say all aircraft entering the area must notify Chinese authorities and are subject to emergency military measures if they do not identify themselves or obey Beijing’s orders. Various Japanese airlines responded in a confused manner overnight, with neither JAL nor ANA sure whether or not to comply with China’s new demand which is merely the latest territorial escalation.
Yet the declaration seems to have flopped as a foreign policy gambit. Analysts say Beijing may have miscalculated the forcefulness and speed with which its neighbors rejected its demands. “Washington, which has hundreds of military aircraft based in the region, says it has zero intention of complying. Japan likewise has called the zone invalid, unenforceable and dangerous, while Taiwan and South Korea, both close to the U.S., also rejected it.”
To put an end to any debate of how the US really feels about China imposing what it believes is its own territoria sovereignty, moments ago the WSJ reported that, in a direct challenge to China, or perhaps provocation, “a pair of American B-52 bombers flew over a disputed island chain in the East China Sea without informing Beijing, U.S. officials said Tuesday, in a direct challenge to China and its establishment of an expanded air defense zone.
Defense officials earlier had promised that the U.S. would challenge the zone and would not comply with Chinese requirements to file a flight plan, radio frequency or transponder information.
The flight of the B-52s, based at Anderson Air Force Base in Guam, were part of a long planned exercise called Coral Lightening. The bombers were not armed and were not accompanied by escort planes.
While the probability of a direct Chinese retaliation against the US is slim to none, it is quite possible that the Chinese will once again redirect their nationalist anger toward Japan, in a repeat of what happened a year ago when the Japanese government escalated the Senkaku Island confrontation, leading to a purge of Japanese business interests (and citizens) from the mainland, and a collapse of all Japanese exports to China. And since one of Abenomics key “arrows” is boosting exports, the last thing the economy, which already hangs by a thread, needs is another economic embargo by one of its largest trading partners. We will find out if China reacts in such a fashion shortly.
The Failure Of Abenomics In One Chart… When Even The Japanese Press Admits “Easing Is Not Working” | Zero Hedge
Since late 2012 Zero Hedge has been very critical of Japan’s Abenomics experiment, and its first and only real arrow: a massive increase in the monetary base thanks to the BOJ’s shock and awe QE announced in April, resulting in the collapse of the Yen (although in a not zero sum world this means ever louder complaints from US exporters such as Ford competing with Japanese companies), a soaring Nikkei (if only through May), and what was expected to be an economic renaissance as a result of a return to stable 2% inflation.
We repeatedly warned that the only inflation anyone would see in Japan is in imported energy costs and food prices, which in turn would crush real disposable income especially once nominal wage deflation accelerated, which it has for the past 16 months straight. So far this has happened precisely as warned.
Another thing we warned about is that the result of the bank reserves tsunami – just like in the US – lending in Japan would grind to a halt, as everyone and their grandmother sought to invest the resulting excess deposits in risk markets as exemplified best by JPMorgan’s CIO division.
Today, with the traditional one year delay (we assume they had to give it the benefit of the doubt), the mainstream media once again catches up to what Zero Hedge readers knew over a year ago, and blasts the outright failure that is Abenomics, but not only in the US (with the domestic honor falling to the WSJ), but also domestically, in a truly damning op-ed in the Japan Times.
We will let readers peruse the WSJ’s “Japan’s Banks Find It Hard to Lend Easy Money: Dearth of Borrowers Illustrates Difficulty in Japan’s Program to Increase Money Supply” on their own. It summarizes one aspect of what we have been warning about – namely the blocked monetary pipeline, something the US has been fighting with for the past five years, and will continue fighting as long as QE continues simply because the “solution” to the problem, i.e., even more QE, just makes the problem worse.
We will however, show the one chart summary which captures all the major failures of the BOJ quite succinctly.
More importantly, we will repost the Japan Times Op-Ed from last night, titled “BOJ’s money mountain growing but debt may explode” because it not only copies all we have said over the past year, but is a dramatic reversal from the Japanese population eagerly drinking Abe’s Koolaid long after its expiration date. Because once the media starts asking questions, the broader population can’t be far behind.
From Japan Times, November 17, 2013 highlights ours
BOJ’s money mountain growing but debt may explode
by Reiji Yoshida
Haruhiko Kuroda hit the ground running when he was appointed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in March to take charge of the Bank of Japan.
Out of the blue, the central bank’s new governor unveiled a super-aggressive easing policy the next month to double the nation’s monetary base in just two years. He said the BOJ would buy more than ¥7 trillion in long-term Japanese government bonds per month to flood the financial system with money to end more than a decade of deflation.
The BOJ’s nine-member Policy Board unanimously supported Kuroda’s goal of stoking 2 percent inflation in two years — a surprise about-face from its stance under his predecessor, Masaaki Shirakawa, who was concerned about the potential side effects of embracing such radical quantitative easing.
More than six months have passed. How has the BOJ’s strategy changed Japan’s financial markets and the real economy?
Critics say Kuroda’s monetary easing scheme isn’t working, although most of the public apparently believes otherwise.
There are growing signs of inflation, but not the sort heralding the start of Abe’s much-advertised recovery and rising wages. Instead, imported fuel and other products have become more expensive because of the weak yen ushered in by Kuroda and Abe, and this bodes ill for the public’s living standards.
Meanwhile, Kuroda’s aggressive plan is allowing the debt-ridden government to issue fresh bonds continuously, further increasing the likelihood of a fiscal crisis, they said.
“People have been deceived by ‘Abenomics,’ ” Yukio Noguchi, a prominent economist and adviser to Waseda University’s Institute of Financial Studies, told The Japan Times in a recent interview.
“Monetary easing is not working, and it’s going nowhere,” Noguchi said.
Since April, the BOJ has been gobbling up JGBs from banks and the open market. Its purchases amount to roughly 70 percent of the value of all new JGBs issued.
But the banks are just stowing that money in their accounts at the BOJ because they can’t find any companies interested in borrowing it.
“There is no demand for funds on the part of businesses. That’s why the monetary easing is not working,” Noguchi said.
Japan’s monetary base — the sum of cash in circulation plus banks’ current account balances at the BOJ — surged from 23.1 percent in April to 45.8 percent in October, thanks to the BOJ’s aggressive operations.
But its money stock — the total amount of monetary assets available in an economy including credit created by bank loans, but excluding deposits held by financial institutions and the central government — only rose to 3.3 percent from 2.3 percent in the period.
This means banks are just depositing the massive funds provided by the BOJ in their own accounts at the central bank. The unloaned cash is thus having little affect on the real economy.
Meanwhile, the long-term interest rate, which theoretically factors in an expected rate of inflation, has fallen and is dwindling at an ultralow level of around 0.6 percent.
This signals that the market does not yet seriously believe that inflation in Japan will reach Kuroda’s 2 percent goal, said Kazuhito Ikeo, an economics professor at Keio University.
“When the policy interest rate has effectively fallen to zero, monetary policy won’t work much any more,” Ikeo said in a recent interview.
Ikeo believes the economy is stuck in a rut because its potential for economic growth has declined and monetary measures alone can’t solve the problem, he said.
“I think it has become clearer that there is a limit to what monetary policy can do,” Ikeo said.
Much of the public believes the drastic easing measures adopted by Abe and Kuroda helped weaken the yen and benefitted exporters. The yen-dollar rate has fallen from around 78 to about 100 over the past 14 months. This helped send the Nikkei stock index soaring from December, one of the main reasons Abenomics has public support.
But the yen started depreciating last fall, long before Kuroda’s widely proposed takeover at the BOJ officially took place in April, Noguchi said.
Abe was just “lucky” to see the yen fall, Noguchi claimed, crediting the easing of the eurozone debt crisis last fall rather than clear signs that Abe’s Liberal Democratic Party was getting ready to boot the unpopular Democratic Party of Japan from power.
In September, Japan’s consumer price index rose 0.7 percent from the same month last year to log its fourth consecutive rise, hinting at inflation. The uptick, however, was misleading. It was largely caused by the costly rise in energy imports, exacerbated by a weaker yen.
This, of course, is not a sign of economic recovery, both Noguchi and Ikeo said.
Workers’ real wages fell 2 percent in August compared with the same month the previous year, logging two drops in a row. Inflation without wage hikes will only erode people’s living standards.
“It is wages that matter. If prices go up without a rise in wages, the real income of the people just goes down,” Noguchi said.
Abe apparently is well aware of this risk and has repeatedly urged top business leaders in Keidanren, the nation’s largest business lobby, to push for wage hikes to generate “a virtuous cycle” of raises and economic expansion.
Noguchi calls Abe’s approach “sheer nonsense” because Japan is not a planned economy and the government thus cannot force businesses to raise wages against their will.
Probably the biggest risk with Abenomics, however, is a potential crash in JGB prices that would cause long-term interest rates to spike and gut the debt-laden government.
Ikeo pointed out that the BOJ’s massive bond purchases are in fact helping the debt-ridden government finance itself, even if the central bank claims this is not its intention. If the BOJ keeps up this charade, confidence in JGBs might crash, Ikeo said.
“Soon or later, concerns over fiscal sustainability will emerge. You can’t rule out the possibility of a surge in the (long-term) interest rate at a critical point,” he said.
The resulting surge in debt-serving costs would devastate the government, which has already racked up a public debt totaling almost 200 percent of gross domestic product — the highest of all developed countries. Nearly half of Japan’s ¥92.6 trillion general account for fiscal 2013 is barely being financed by fresh JGB issues.
According to Noguchi’s simulation, if the average JGB yield jumps to 4 percent in fiscal 2014, debt-serving costs will leap to a staggering ¥50 trillion in fiscal 2025 alone, which is more than half the size of the fiscal 2013 budget.
“This is nothing but fiscal bankruptcy,” Noguchi warned.
For some two decades, fears and rumors have swirled about just such a scenario. Economists who warned of the impending crisis were labeled alarmists while speculators who bet on it always lost.
That situation may soon change.
Japan’s trade balance has turned into a deficit and the current account surplus has shrunk. Japan posted a surplus of ¥3.05 trillion in the current account for the April-September half, the second-lowest level since 1985, when comparable data became available.
Ikeo warned that if the current account balance sinks into red and people are convinced the yen will no longer strengthen, investors may start buying foreign bonds and ditch their JGBs.
Another possible danger is, ironically, a full-fledged economic rebound, which would also push up long-term interest rates, Ikeo said.
The government needs to walk “a dangerous narrow path” of seeking a recovery while trying to prevent interest rates from surging at the same time, he said.
Testosterone Pit – Home – Japan’s Most Hated Outfit, TEPCO, Reports Fat Profit (From Taxpayer Bailout Money)
TEPCO, the utility that serves 29 million households and businesses in the Tokyo metropolitan area, and that owns the Fukushima nuclear power plant where three melted-down reactors are contaminating air, soil, groundwater, and seawater, an outfit famous for its lackadaisical handling of the fiasco and the parsimoniousness with which it doles out information – the most despised and ridiculed company in Japan reported earnings today. It was a doozie.
Instead of sending it into bankruptcy court to make bondholders and stockholders pay their share, the government has bailed it (and them) out lock, stock, and barrel. And it’s still on taxpayer-funded life support. So it was good news that revenues jumped 11.8% to ¥3.2 trillion during the fiscal first half ending September 30 – blistering hot growth for a utility with 49,000 employees in a slow-or-no-growth market!
But that was about it with the good news. It wasn’t even good news. It was based exclusively on electricity rate hikes that regulators had approved to compensate the company for the costs of running fossil-fuel power plants instead of its nuclear power plants, which remain shut down. It then inflicted those higher rates on already struggling businesses and squeezed consumers.
Sign of a booming Abenomics economy? Nope. Electricity sales volume fell by 1.7% in the first half. Among the reasons, ominously: a “decrease in production activities.” Commercial use fell 1.7% and industrial use 0.5% from the already depressed levels last year. Among large-scale industrial customers, electricity sales to ferrous metals companies suffered the most, down 6.7%, followed by sales to machinery producers, down 3.8%.
Net profit for the first half soared to ¥616.2 billion ($6.2 billion), up from a steep loss last year. But the rate hikes alone, big as they’ve been, couldn’t accomplish that. So cost cuts?
TEPCO is certainly trying to cut costs in dealing with the Fukushima fiasco, mostly by cutting corners. Efforts that produce curious results. A few days ago, for example, when it didn’t put enough pumps in place to deal with the rains from the typhoon, water contaminated with highly radioactive and toxic Strontium-90 leaked once again into the ocean. Despite all these valiant efforts at cutting corners, its “ordinary expenses” rose 1.2%.
So where did that big fat profit of ¥616.2 billion come from? Turns out, “ordinary income” was only ¥141.6 billion, up from a loss last year. Those were the rate increases. The difference? “Extraordinary Income.”
A lot of it! So TEPCO sold some fixed assets for a gain of ¥74.2 billion, fine. But then there was an interesting, and huge entry: ¥666.2 billion ($6.7 billion). It was the amount of taxpayer bailout money TEPCO had received during the first half. Booked as income!
After some extraordinary loss items – ¥22 billion for “extraordinary loss on natural disaster” and ¥230.5 billion for “nuclear damage compensation” – net disaster-related extraordinary income amounted to ¥413.7 billion ($4.2 billion), every yen of it from taxpayers. It became part of its net profit. What a way to make money!
These kinds of shenanigans have impact. TEPCO’s stock, which traded above ¥4,000 in 2007, skittered down during the financial crisis to land at ¥2,000 by the end of 2010. After the disaster in March 2011, the stock collapsed entirely and a few months later approached ¥100 yen – a technically bankrupt company with 49,000 employees. But since the bailout funds started pouring into TEPCO’s pocket, the stock has quintupled to ¥523.
Today, the government offered a view into the future. A panel composed of lawmakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party issued a draft report that recommended that the government, and therefore the taxpayer, step in and take control of the Fukushima cleanup and decommissioning efforts. It will be expensive and take four decades – unless the spent fuel rods in their destroyed pools ignite when the next big earthquake hits or when TEPCO screws up again, which would alter the hemisphere and eliminate any need to worry about the site.
The panel said that TEPCO must implement major internal improvements, including cost controls, and it suggested that the company may have to be broken up, partially or fully – with the good part likely going to bondholders and stockholders, and the bad part, that is Fukushima Daiichi and all associated costs and liabilities, being hung around the neck of the taxpayer.
There was urgency, the panel said. TEPCO could not manage the large amounts of groundwater that were getting contaminated daily by the reactors, and at the same time manage their decommissioning. The government would also have to figure out what to do with the nuclear waste from the site – and then pay for it as well.
The true costs of nuclear power are thus getting shuffled from the industry to the taxpayer – while bondholders and stockholders benefit.
Not a coincidence. Earlier this year, it was leaked that TEPCO had paid ¥1.8 billion ($189 million) in annual membership fees to a nuclear lobbying group in 2011, weeks after the melt-downs. The Federation of Electric Power Companies of Japan, which lobbies for Japan’s ten mega-utilities, keeps its budget secret. This was the first time the fees seeped out, offering an idea of its annual lobbying budget – whose magnitude explains in part the overwhelming power the nuclear industry has over its regulators and governments.
That power is now being exerted on the Abe administration and the legislature – not only to slough off the costs of dealing with Fukushima but also to restart the 50 surviving reactors, against strong local and national opposition.
As the Fukushima fiasco hobbled from cover-ups to partial revelations, TEPCO always pretended the situation was under control. But days after Tokyo scored the 2020 Olympics, that pretense fell apart. Read…. After Snatching Olympics, Japan Suddenly Admits Fukushima Not “Under Control,” Begs For International Help
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- Japan panel ‘wants Tepco break-up’ (bbc.co.uk)
- Fukushima operator returns to profitability, faces uncertain future (dnaindia.com)
- Japan ruling-party panel to propose break-of Fukushima operator: media (chinapost.com.tw)
- TEPCO, US to cooperate in Japan nuke plant cleanup (kansascity.com)