The Monetary Illusion

The long-term consequences of global QE are likely to permanently impair living standards for generations to come while creating a false illusion of reviving prosperity.

March 26, 2015   |    By Scott Minerd, Global CIO


A version of this article first appeared in the Financial Times.

As economic growth returns again to Europe and Japan, the prospect of a synchronous global expansion is taking hold. Or, then again, maybe not. In a recent research piece published by Bank of America Merrill Lynch, global economic growth, as measured in nominal U.S. dollars, is projected to decline in 2015 for the first time since 2009, the height of the financial crisis.

In fact, the prospect of improvement in economic growth is largely a monetary illusion. No one needs to explain how policymakers have made painfully little progress on the structural reforms necessary to increase global productive capacity and stimulate employment and demand. Lacking the political will necessary to address the issues, central bankers have been left to paper over the global malaise with reams of fiat currency.

With politicians lacking the willingness or ability to implement labor and tax reforms, monetary policy has perversely morphed into a new orthodoxy where even central bankers admittedly view it as their job to use their balance sheets as a tool to implement fiscal policy.

One argument is that if central banks were not created to execute fiscal policy, then why require them to maintain any capital at all? Capital is that which is held in reserve to absorb losses. If losses are to be anticipated, then a reasonable inference is that a certain expectation of risk must exist. Therefore, central banks must be expected to take on some risk for policy purposes, which implies a function beyond the creation of a monetary base to maintain price stability.

Global Nominal GDP Growth, as Measured in Dollars, Is Projected to Decline

With a surging U.S. dollar and growth remaining sluggish in much of the world, Bank of America Merrill Lynch forecasts that world output measured in dollars could fall in 2015 for the first time since the financial crisis. Over the past 34 years, this has happened just five times.

Global Nominal GDP Growth, as Measured in Dollars, Is Projected to Decline

Source: IMF, BAML, Guggenheim Investments. Data as of 2/6/2015.

What kinds of risk are appropriate for a central bank? Well, the maintenance of a nation’s banking system would plainly be in scope, given the central bank’s role as lender of last resort. The defense of the currency as a store of value and medium of exchange is another appropriate risk. This was the apparent motivation of Mario Draghi, European Central Bank president, for his famous promise to defend the euro at all costs in the summer of 2012. The central bank balance sheet has proven a flexible tool limited in use only by the creativity of central bankers themselves.

In response to those who argue against the metamorphosis of monetary policy into fiscal policy, one need only point toward the impact of quantitative easing (QE) on interest rates. The depressed returns available on fixed-income securities, largely as a result of QE, are acting as a tax on investors, including individual savers, pension funds, and insurance companies.

Essentially, monetary authorities around the globe are levying a tax on investors and providing a subsidy to borrowers. Taxation and subsidies, as well as other wealth transfer payment schemes, have historically fallen within the realm of fiscal policy under the control of the electorate. Under the new monetary orthodoxy, the responsibility for critical aspects of fiscal policy has been surrendered into the hands of appointed officials who have been left to salvage their economies, often under the guise of pursuing monetary order.

The consequences of the new monetary orthodoxy are yet to be fully understood. For the time being, the latest rounds of QE should support continued U.S. dollar strength and limit increases in interest rates. Additionally, risk assets such as high-yield debt and global equities should continue to perform strongly.

Real Median Household Income Has Been Flat for 20 Years

Despite ultra-loose monetary policies over the past several years, incomes adjusted for inflation have fallen for the median U.S. family. With the benefits of monetary expansion going to a small share of the population and wage growth stagnating, incomes have been essentially flat over the past 20 years.

Real Median Household Income Has Been Flat for 20 Years

Source: Haver Analytics, Guggenheim Investments. Data as of 12/31/2013.

In the long run, however, classical economics would tell us that the pricing distortions created by the current global regimes of QE will lead to a suboptimal allocation of capital and investment, which will result in lower output and lower standards of living over time. In fact, although U.S. equity prices are setting record highs, real median household incomes are 9 percent lower than 1999 highs. The report from Bank of America Merrill Lynch plainly supports the conclusion that QE and the associated currency depreciation is not leading to higher global output.

The cost of QE is greater than the income lost to savers and investors. The long-term consequence of the new monetary orthodoxy is likely to permanently impair living standards for generations to come while creating a false illusion of reviving prosperity.
 

 
Definitions

Fiat currency is currency that a government has declared to be legal tender but is not backed by a physical commodity.
Nominal GDP is a gross domestic product figure that has not been adjusted for inflation.


Important Notices and Disclosures

Fixed income investments are subject to credit, liquidity, interest rate and, depending on the instrument, counterparty risk. These risks may be increased to the extent fixed income investments are concentrated in any one issuer, industry, region or country. The market value of fixed income investments generally will fluctuate with, among other things, the financial condition of the obligors on the underlying debt obligations or, with respect to synthetic securities, of the obligors on or issuers of the reference obligations, general economic conditions, the condition of certain financial markets, political events, developments or trends in any particular industry and changes in prevailing interest rates.

Past performance is not indicative of future results. There is neither representation nor warranty as to the current accuracy of, nor liability for, decisions based on such information.

This article is distributed for informational purposes only and should not be considered as investment advice, a recommendation of any particular security, strategy or investment product or as an offer of solicitation with respect to the purchase or sale of any investment. This article should not be considered research nor is the article intended to provide a sufficient basis on which to make an investment decision.

The article contains opinions of the author but not necessarily those of Guggenheim Partners, LLC its subsidiaries or its affiliates. Although the information presented herein has been obtained from and is based upon sources Guggenheim Partners, LLC believes to be reliable, no representation or warranty, express or implied, is made as to the accuracy or completeness of that information.

The author’s opinions are subject to change without notice. Forward looking statements, estimates, and certain information contained herein are based upon proprietary and nonproprietary research and other sources. Information contained herein has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable but is not guaranteed as to accuracy.

This article may be provided to certain investors by FINRA licensed broker-dealers affiliated with Guggenheim Partners. Such broker-dealers may have positions in financial instruments mentioned in the article, may have acquired such positions at prices no longer available, and may make recommendations different from or adverse to the interests of the recipient. The value of any financial instruments or markets mentioned in the article can fall as well as rise. Securities mentioned are for illustrative purposes only and are neither a recommendation nor an endorsement.

Individuals and institutions outside of the United States are subject to securities and tax regulations within their applicable jurisdictions and should consult with their advisors as appropriate.

©2015, Guggenheim Partners, LLC. No part of this article may be reproduced in any form, or referred to in any other publication, without express written permission of Guggenheim Partners, LLC.

Guggenheim Funds Distributors, LLC is an affiliate of Guggenheim Partners, LLC and Guggenheim Investments. For information, call 800.345.7999 or 800.820.0888.

Member FINRA/SIPC GI FIO 0315 #17131


FEATURED PERSPECTIVES

Tail Risks Are Getting Fatter - Featured Perspectives
August 20, 2018

Tail Risks Are Getting Fatter

While the U.S. economy remains on solid footing, exogenous risks threaten asset values, market confidence, and the strength of the U.S. economy.

Welcome, Immigrants. The U.S. Really Needs You - Featured Perspectives
July 30, 2018

Welcome, Immigrants. The U.S. Really Needs You

To achieve long-term prosperity, rational immigration policy must become a priority.

Late-Cycle Boost and Boom - Featured Perspectives
July 18, 2018

Late-Cycle Boost and Boom

Investors should stay guarded for exogenous shocks that could pull the next recession forward and cause markets to reprice credit risk.


VIDEO

Forecating the Next Recession 

Forecasting the Next Recession

Global CIO Scott Minerd and Head of Macroeconomic and Investment Research Brian Smedley provide context and commentary to complement our recent publication, “Forecasting the Next Recession.”

Macro Themes to Watch in 2018 

Macro Themes to Watch in 2018

In his market outlook, Global CIO Scott Minerd discusses the challenges of managing in a market melt up and highlights several charts from his recent piece, “10 Macro Themes to Watch in 2018.”







© 2018 Guggenheim Partners, LLC. All rights reserved. Guggenheim, Guggenheim Partners and Innovative Solutions. Enduring Values. are registered trademarks of Guggenheim Capital, LLC.