About That Rate Hike…

On Wednesday of this week (December 16, 2015 to be precise) The FOMC committee at the Federal Reserve is slated to follow through on the 2nd most anticipated, telegraphed, jawboned, as well as hand-wrung policy dictates to end the now maligned zero-bound policy, and raise rates ever so slightly by 25 basis points. Some Fed. officials have publicly stated that many around the world are calling for them to “just do it.” Sure they were. Maybe a few weeks ago. But as we get closer to the actual moment where “should” turns to “will?” Things change, and change fast. Especially when that change looks awfully familiar as what transpired last time the global markets held its collective breath. i.e., As the market held its breath – all the air began streaming out of the balloon.

So once again we await the results for the monetary policy game of “Will they? – Won’t they?” The issue this time? The consequences may be in fact a little more costly than previously. For the world is a much changed place than what is was just this past September. And looking back less than 90 days later, it seems raising then may have been a cakewalk as compared to now. Like I said, “A lot has changed over the last few months.” And they all point to the same thing: Potential for disaster.

One thing that’s changed and yet remains the same? China. What’s changed is things seem to have taken a turn for the worse. What hasn’t changed? The blatant ham-fisted style of dealing with its monetary and market fiascos via its politburo.

A few weeks back I wrote in an article “Dec. 16th A Date Which Will Live On In Monetary Infamy”

“Well, don’t look now, but there indeed looks to be trouble brewing on the global stage (or should I say “international developments”) that could turn out to be just as big of a headache to the Fed’s reasoning’s on whether or not to “just do it.” Just one of those issues is – once again: China.”

And guess what has transpired since? Not only has the Asian markets nearly mirrored what took place during that period. China itself has done things far more damaging to their own credibility of making their markets more transparent and stable. This time they’ve devalued their currency via backroom operations more frequently in moves that are causing outright consternation across the for-ex markets.

The inclusion into the SDR (Special Drawing Rights) Basket which was supposedly a coveted milestone awarded as to assign stability and confidence seems to have done anything but. As a matter of fact it seems to have done quite the opposite. Adding to this the PBoC signaled just the other day their intention to loosen the Yuan’s peg to the $Dollar. How’s that going to work for a Fed. rate hike? Can anyone say “importing deflation via Made In China?” And here the Fed. is said to be all worried about inflation. I wonder if we’ll see “Ooopsy” in any of the corresponding releases via the Fed. minutes. I’m of the belief that word is going to come front-of-mind quite a lot over the next few months. We’re now seeing just how much turmoil waiting for the “right moment” Fed. style is about to unleash.

Another actuality which shouldn’t be lost on anyone is just how many top Chinese business leaders or market participants have suddenly gone missing. If one is perceived in any way as not towing the Party’s line (which is what happens in communist countries which far too many forget China is) whether they are talking negative, selling shares, cashing out, or a myriad of other factors deemed “improper” by the politburo – they are gone. Gone as in: Are they still alive?

But not to worry we’ve heard from many a next in rotation fund manager appearing in the financial media. “Their markets are just fine. They’re working out issues that come with any growing economy. After all, don’t forget China’s economy and GDP is still growing some 6% plus! We wish we had such growth!! And now they’re moving from manufacturing to a service economy, Oh, the riches to be had by all, Just back up the truck and BTFD!”

Sure thing. After all, what’s a little market turmoil when you can just “ghost” those you decide are the cause of any selling or market turmoil. And even if they aren’t, that’s OK too. For as Mao stated “You have to break a few eggs to make an omelet.” And that’s when millions were “ghosted.” So what’s a few business leaders for the sake of “the markets” hmmm?

And that’s just China. Or, should I say the “international developments” excuse implied last time the Fed. was going to “just do it” and didn’t. How about a few other real international developments taking place this time that weren’t so front and center last time. e.g. Nearly every other Developed as well as other EM nation whose economy is linked heavily to commodities. With some EM’s looking into the real possibility of returning to Frontier statuses if there’s even further calamity in the markets. That catalyst being the now collapsing commodities market.

Today, if you are a nation that’s tied to commodities – your economy is either in turmoil, or, outright free-fall. Saudi Arabia for one is burning through reserves at a pace only equaled with their oil output. Canada is suddenly finding itself at the precipice of an economic tailspin. The once driving economic hot-spots such as Alberta , and Saskatchewan have been particularly hard hit, and the worst is far from over as the price of oil continues to fall to levels many suggested would never be seen again in generations.Yet; not only are they here. They seem to be going even lower.

Brazil? Disaster, and getting worse by the day. Venezuela? Worse. And I haven’t even mentioned problems such as in Puerto Rico, Mexico, and a few others. However, let’s do mention Europe. e.g., The EU, and specifically Mario Draghi and the ECB.

Not more than two weeks ago Mr. Draghi took to the media as to announce what the market presumed to be an even more dovish toned statement. i.e., More QE in one form or another. The issue? They didn’t get it – and the markets fell in unison.

Once again in less than 90 days since the August plunge the markets reacted in similar fashion and many market participants found out what the meaning of “liquidity” meant when playing in this HFT fueled world supposedly “full of it.” Only when Mr. Draghi came out the next day at a speech at the Economic Club of New York™ to reassure (or triage the rout) stating “We are ready at any time to re-calibrate our array of tools” did the markets reverse rewarding the parasitic, algorithmic, headline reading, stop running, HFT programs to front-run his soothing tones and vaulted the markets upwards.

When pressed after his speech by other participants if he had iterated these passages as to help quell market fears. He responded at first with some push back, only to relent at the same time stating, “No…not really. Well, of course.” Welcome to monetary policy 2015 style. If you need reminding just how adulterated and far the markets have come. You needn’t look any further. Only this time – they aren’t staying there. They’re falling, and falling quickly. What’s worse? The Euro is climbing if not outright spiking upwards crushing many carry trades where the carnage is still yet to be felt, as well as fully identified. However, there are clues to just how bad it is under the surface.

Unprecedented losses in hedge funds caused other ECB members such as Ewald Nowotny to state “I think it was really a massive failure of market analysts.”  Yes it was. Problem was the markets thought the ECB were not only going to keep the pipes open – they’d turn the valve up to 11! And why wouldn’t they when the ECB continued to give soundbites as late as Nov. 2nd such as: Nowotny says, “ECB has to act as inflation target to be missed.” Massive failure indeed is all I’ll say.

The entire Euro-Zone is in chaos with many of its member states not only arguing about national sovereignty. They are literally beginning to once gain erect barricades and border crossings that were once thought never to be seen again. Yet, there they are. Again.

The Syrian refugee crisis is bringing out old tensions and new fears across Europe. Greece is finding out the hard way just how much of its sovereignty it did indeed relinquish when it signed it away to EU oversight for loans. My how costly those interest payments seem today. Think Portugal and Spain are going to do the same as they begin demanding better terms? In this current light? I dare say – I think not. You think Germany has more solid ground to put a halt to such demands today? Give that scenario a thought through while remembering the ongoing Volkswagen™ scandal, as well as demanding millions more refugees be accepted into member states with their own 50% youth unemployment. I believe Mr. Schäuble would be in-store for a little unwanted Schadenfreude during discussions this time.

Then there’s Russia. You know, that other communist country that is currently engaged in a real kinetic engagement in Syria. A country whose leader has basically called out the U.S. for outright manipulation, and the root cause of all the Middle East turmoil and militant uprising. The same country whose leader, and military have made it known they are “To strengthen Russian nuclear forces” while simultaneously launching cruise missiles from a sub into Syria. Add to this, that Turkey (a NATO ally) has subsequently shot down a Russian fighter jet. Does one think a mishap (any mishap) is possible that may launch WW3? How about a monetary one? Think it’s implausible or lunacy? I would urge you to think again, as well as quite carefully. For it’s not as far-fetched as one might first think.

Back in October I proposed this very idea that a monetary policy action could in fact be construed by other nations as an outright act of war if the situations presented themselves in just the right way, at just the wrong time. Whether or not it was intentional the results could be the same. Here’s a passage to reiterate:

“With the way the current global markets are now predisposed to HFT – If one wanted to put a hurt on a presumed or proposed adversaries economy; why wait for sanctions to be reimposed or, tightened or, a number of other financial weapons that need to be brought for a vote or, announced or, whatever: when it could be done today through various other means with only a nod-of-the-head.”

The premise of such an idea at that time was shouted at as being “preposterous!” However, let me now add a detail that no one. And I mean, no – one thought would happen. Especially in these turbulent moments. To wit:

“The IMF Just Entered The Cold War, Forgives Ukraine’s Debt To Russia”  And just how do you think this was viewed last week in Putin’s war council deliberations? Better yet, how do you think it’s going to be viewed when it’s contrasted against the Fed. raising interest rates against a backdrop of every other DM across the globe devaluing theirs in a response to an outright commodity driven rout crushing not only those economies, but also swelling government burdens causing social unrest?

An interest rate hike here by the U.S. Federal Reserve could in fact be a catalyst that all but crushes their current fragile economies outright. Remember, this will be needed to be thought through enlisting the eyes of one Vladimir Putin. You know, the one installing ICBM’s where we also have forces. And had a plane shot down by one of our ally’s. Think he’s going to look at this as “Oh well, the Fed. had to save its credibility. Pass the vodka?”

Which brings us back to the first player – who is also a co-player with the last in the same arena: China.

China as of what has been demonstrated publicly sides with Russia, not the U.S. And has also been moving its alliances with others that we are now having difficulties with. i.e., Iraq and more. And it will also be China’s economy that may suffer just as bad as Russia if and when the Fed. raises rates. Yep, nothing to see here. Move along. thanks for stopping by. As we can now see the Fed. knew exactly what it was doing by delaying all these years. For this sure looks like the absolute best time to “just do it.” Right?

This is where the Fed. now finds itself. Here they were. Just holding policy lines doing what they in their Ivory Tower contemplated and the so-called “smart crowd” insisted they do. And now the saying of “Between a rock and a hard place” might be an understatement. The world sits atop a tinderbox fueled by monetary policies that created them and awaits a match that could set it off in a blaze of who knows what. All in short order.

Unless they don’t do anything except try their best Draghi impersonation and declare, “They too are once again at the ready to do what ever it takes!” Except – just not now. Or worse. They do raise – and near immediately need, and do issue – QE. At that point who knows which is worse. For what it won’t be, is:

Predictable.

© 2015 Mark St.Cyr