I’ve been catching up on my reading and dear Bento, if anyone tells you they have a clear view on what is going to happen to the econo-world from here, walk away briskly. As Ed Hyman of ISI* puts it, with the now imminent onset of QE2 we are in “scary times”, a world of “unintended consequences”.
The only intellectually honest position to take at this point, it seems, is to admit we haven’t a clue. Personally I, Baruch, am getting really confused. My default setting is that we will muddle through and everything will be OK. But the cone of potential outcomes that surround that base case is now as loose and flappy as a wizard’s sleeve.
Note also that even the “muddling through” scenario doesn’t presume any particular level of the S&P at the end of the next 12 months. Plus or minus 30% and in Baruch’s view we’d still be all right.
Where to start? Well, here’s a list of the factors that I think are going to make us move, in the form of a dialog in Baruch’s head. None or all of them could dominate. Maybe some are already priced in. Some of them I hope are made up and will go away. There’s nothing particularly original here I admit, but I want, at this juncture, to sum up where we may be. Baruch’s future self might find it interesting. Here goes:
1) we are getting QE2! It will save us from Japanese-style deflation. Yayy!
2) Yes, but this is not necessarily a good thing. QE2 is the first move, the invasion of Poland if you like, in the coming currency war against everyone who is good at exporting, especially the Chinese. In the ensuing cycle of “bugger thy neighbour”, we will descend into massive disruption of trade and runaway inflation. Oh no!
3) But don’t worry. The Chinese are going to make structural reforms in their upcoming 5 Year Plan which will massively boost consumption over the next few years. The Yuan will rise anyway, no matter what the result of the horrible currency shenanigans, and their ensuing import boom will be the engine dragging the world out of debt-deflation! Yayy!
4) Hang on. I’ve just had some bad news. The financial system is insolvent again. All the mortgages securitised in the past X years stopped being asset backed, as they umm. . . lost the paperwork. The holders can’t foreclose, and the people who have been foreclosed on may have had their houses taken away illegally. Many may have to get their houses back. So stuff that the banks still own has to be written down again. Hell, even the people who can pay their mortgages have a big incentive not to any more. We’re totally fucked.
5) Don’t worry! All that crap’s been written off already or backed by the Feds! Isn’t it? They can’t be as stupid to have it still on their books, right? While we may have jeopardised a couple of banks, the Foreclosure Crisis may also have solved the US consumer debt problem! All the mortgages will be cancelled!! As long as a few banks can survive we still got QE2, massive Chinese consumption growth AND a reset to US private indebtedness. Those crazy Americans can now re-re-mortgage their houses and buy another round of LCD TVs for their McMansions, and reinstate the semi-annual holidays in Disney World! We can’t lose!!
6) Not so fast, cheeky monkey. The US banking system may be meta-fucked. Turns out the banks who securitised mortgages may have defrauded their customers and broken the law, because they secretly did in fact do some due diligence, and knew all the mortgages were rubbish. There is no better person to tell you about this than our old mate Felix; who says bloggers can’t do journalism? Good news: bankers may not be the total idiots we thought they were. Bad news: they were fraudulently criminal instead, and apparently may have to pay cash at par for all the stuff they all wrote down already, plus a bunch of extra fines. Even if the SEC throws up its hands and the DoJ doesn’t want to prosecute, I imagine foreign prosecutors won’t be so shy if there’s a case to be heard. Certainly you would think a civil case would be worth a shot, and if proven, I can only imagine the settlements. I hope they remember to ask to have the checks made out in Yuan.
7) You poor sap. You ridiculous perma-bear. Bernanke has our backs! You don’t think he doesn’t know this stuff already? You were wondering why he was so keen to rush into QE2 despite the positive turn in the leading indicators, and pump us all up before the mid-terms. You got it now? We’re going to get the mother of all easings, bigger than the trillion dollars everyone’s expecting, something open-ended, maybe.
Anyway, that’s as far as I got. Any better ideas out there? Anything I missed? Is any of it wrong? Can you help poor old Baruch make sense of it all?
* ISI is the only macro strategist my team actually pays for, everyone else seems to offer their opinions for free