In a stunning policy move Bank of Japan Governor Haruhiko Kuroda introduced and adopted negative interest rates. The word “stunning” is fitting, for just weeks prior he stated there was no need to adopt such measures. It seems by all accounts his mind changed (or was made right?) after returning from Davos.
Whether or not this is the case one thing is certain: The Bank of Japan (BOJ) has thrown not just a monkey wrench into the financial system. He may have simultaneously made every other central bankers toolbox irrelevant, as well as incapable, to deal with the resulting damage. It’s one thing to have the right tool at the right time to tweak or fix. It’s quite another to lose grip of that tool where it falls into the running gears of the machinery. That’s when far more can (and usually does) go awry than just the original issue. (Think losing the small water pumps that keep water in a nuclear reactor as an analogy.)
No matter what anyone in the “smart crowd” would argue different. Today, both the financial world along with business in general is currently being manipulated made possible via crony capitalism as well as simultaneously being stymied by central bank policies. All occurring through the direct myriad of interventions into the capital markets globally. I believe that in no other time since the days of direct rule of Kings and Queens has such a small cabal of people had so much influence, as well as control, of global finance and business influence. Ever.
Politicians of all stripes sway or prestige are pale in comparison today as to the dictates coming from one central banking authority or another. However, with such authority comes a very heavy price. That price? It’s becoming easier to spot both the “who,” as well as the “where,” catastrophic mistakes in policies effecting societies well-being may originate from. And I don’t think many central bankers truly understand just how precarious in that position they now sit.
We were told (“we” being the business world) ad nauseam by the central bankers themselves that they knew precisely what they were doing. In 2008 as the financial markets as well as the economy came-off-the-rails the Federal Reserve stepped in and stabilized what seemed to be an out of control death spiral. Many will argue valid points on both sides whether it was good, bad, or an ugly way the tools used to stem that tide were employed. Personally I believe there was a legitimate and valid argument to step in.
However: It was the remaining “in” while supplying ever more of the very things that made the original crisis inevitable in the first place that had/has anyone with a modicum of business acumen apoplectic.
The relentless iterations of QE (quantitative easing) and an unrelenting stance to remain at the zero bound on interest rate policies for years could be seen for the ever ballooning, ticking time bomb they were. It didn’t take too much imagination and thought thru to envision just how difficult along with its disruption in both financial as well as business thing would become once the proverbial punch-bowls were taken away.
Economic theory as to explain and guide central banks through this malaise are suddenly finding themselves squarely in the line of fire of business and financial fact: They’ve created an absolute mess. And what’s worse? It may be the bankers themselves that may no longer trust their own omnipotence to deal with what’s coming. i.e., They aren’t going to wait or care any longer about coordination of moves. It’s now everyone for themselves as just witnessed by what many are now calling a “Kamikaze” bank policy move from the BOJ.
Why is this so troubling many are asking. After all, it seems that the BOJ governor’s mind changed after meeting with all the other bankers and attendees at Davos. And if one is to believe all the reports; more QE, and negative interest rates were what was being called (as well as begged) for as to help stem the tide of this current market malaise. Maybe the BOJ just decided to emulate what’s now taking place in the EU? Sounds logical right?
Well yes, maybe. However, what may be far more front-of-mind for the BOJ is the current meltdown in China. Japan may try to sweep away concerns regarding contamination of any meltdown at their nuclear plants. What they can’t turn a blind eye to is the potential for contagion in any currency meltdown in the CNY. e.g., Chinese Yuan. And it seems that potential grows stronger with each passing day.
And just like the potential for radiation effects are at first unseen to the naked eye. The possible ramification of suddenly throwing one of the most heavily traded currencies (e.g., ¥Yen) into an anytime, anywhere, out-of-the-blue change in monetary pricing stability can affect carry trades across the global markets in ways far more treacherous, as well as dangerous than anyone ever considered. Especially in today’s highly levered, correlated, high frequency trading (HFT) algorithmic based market. The resulting effects are yet to be felt. After all – this all just happened Friday.
I would garner there were many a meeting across many financial houses over the weekend than will admit. For when it comes to a carry trade – any carry trade – stability of perceived pricing models is key. A change of just one fractional amount too far in the wrong direction for assumption can render a fortress balance sheet into a falling house of cards with an immediacy most never truly comprehend. One would think 2007/08 would still be well-remembered. By the way many are talking – it seems as if it was ancient history. It’s unnervingly surreal.
Today the markets are gyrating widely reminiscent of those early stage stresses and/or warning signs just prior to the first real downdraft experienced during the initial stages of the financial crisis. Back then we had one policy move, or jawboning official after another announcing plans to do this or that, sending the market into fits and starts near daily.
Many times these daily knee-jerk rises of 1% plus moves were only to be followed with subsequent selloffs erasing (and then some) any gains made prior. Sometimes with incalculable speed and disruption. Today, with an ever infected market now under near complete and utter dominance via HFT parasitic trading programs, these swings may become even more violent as well as fear induced as supposed “liquidity” vanishes and/or appears from markets faster than the laser beams can quote stuff that “liquidity” in the first place.
The problem now is: Which central banker or policy is to be believed? And more importantly: for how long? Couple that with: Who will now be trusted as having credibility both in stating what they mean, and doing what they said? As well as: doing what they said because they know what they are doing? Quite the conundrum, yes?
The issue at hand is answering the question of: just why did the BOJ do what it just did – in the way that it did it? The ramification to those questions could not be more explicit in their meaning than almost any other in my opinion. For the global markets may be in far more perilous a position than the central bankers themselves ever imagined, let alone – contemplated.
For those who never seen the movie “Margin Call” there’s a great scene as it’s then irrefutable and understood that it’s all about to fall apart where Sam Rogers (Kevin Spacey) is expressing concerns to John Tuld (Jeremy Irons) that he believes the firm is panicking in selling everything all at once, causing a possible run on everything and melting down the system. The response from Tuld is quite fitting when he states, “It’s not panicking if you’re first.”
Today, as many of the financial media and others are trying to explain away this monetary move by the BOJ as something as simple as “Kuroda has said he likes to shake things up, or be unpredictable.” I think they may be looking in the wrong direction. For what now must be considered into that equation is something that portends to far more concern than meets the eye at first blush. To wit:
Did the BOJ’s out-of-the-blue reversal on its monetary stance which was refuted just weeks prior by Mr. Kuroda himself take place because after listening to the arguments, suggestions, as well as concerns, from the participants at Davos he concluded much like what the movie “Margin Call” depicted: It was all about to unravel? And if so: is this him deciding to be “first” and considered it his only choice?
And if so, what does his actions pose for the credibility of his brethren bankers? Do they now act from a place of “Who can they trust?” And what does that mean for the rest of us? The implications are staggering when you begin to open those doors for they have the potential of making Pandora’s box seem harmless in comparison.
However, maybe this is all hyperbole and should be disregarded as over the top rhetoric from Chicken Little types with no actual central banking policy experience. Maybe we should take comfort in the unwavering hand of credibility that never saw the great financial crisis to begin with when he argued that subprime mortgages and the crisis they foretold were “contained.” Then Fed. chairman Ben Bernanke.
What does he say today? Well, when he was speaking in Hong Kong at the Asian Financial Forum as Davos was also transpiring he stated, “I don’t think China’s economic slowdown is that severe to threaten the global economy, ” along with “The U.S. and China are not as closely tied as the market thinks.”
Maybe “Margin Call” was one of the movies available on demand in the rooms at Davos, and all Mr. Kuroda is now doing is channeling his inner “Jon Tuld” moment. And why not? “It’s not panicking if you’re first.”
However, for the rest of us, we can only wait and see what happens next.
© 2016 Mark St.Cyr