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Michael Pollaro

Michael Pollaro

Michael Pollaro is a retired Investment Banking professional, most recently Chief Operating Officer for the Bank's Cash Equity Trading Division. He is a passionate free…

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Central Bank Credibility, The Equity Markets and Gold

Central bank credibility is at all-time highs. As a consequence, we suggest, equities are near all-time highs too while gold is scraping multi-year lows. A change though may be in the offing with all three. Not today, nor tomorrow. But perhaps sooner than most think.

Here's how we see it...

In the context of five plus years of the most unconventional monetary policies the world has ever seen, there is a near universal belief that a group of Keynesian/Monetarist schooled, largely academic economists have got it all figured out; namely, that super-sized, well-orchestrated, easy money policies - zero even negative benchmark interest rates, a smorgasbord of essentially free lending programs and of course mega-size asset purchase programs (QE) - can produce sustainable, economic growth. In other words, central bank credibility and the efficacy of their policies are in the heavens.

No central bank is more revered in this regard than the Federal Reserve. As we discussed here, the Federal Reserve, it is said, is "pulling it off." Because of its heroic, unconventional, all-in easy money policies, the Federal Reserve is said to have "saved" America from an almost certain depression and then, because of its continued easy money policies, is the driving force behind America's now accelerating economic growth. Just look at the economic numbers, say the pundits. The Federal Reserve's monetary policies are working. Yes, not as fast as we would like, but going in the right direction. Only one task left - a well-calibrated, data-driven exit from these unconventional policies. The strengthening economy can take it, they say. In fact, the exit should be welcomed because it signals a strong and growing economy, one that will no longer require any Federal Reserve support.

Of course, this is music to U.S. equity market investors and speculators alike, so much so that U.S. equities have become the asset class de jure. You can't lose, proclaim one investment manager after another. Don't "fight the Fed," they say, embrace it.

This unwavering faith in the prowess of central banks is seen with greatest clarity in the Euro zone. Observe the near universal belief that if only the Germans would get out of the way and allow ECB head Mario Draghi to implement a Federal Reserve style, open-ended, sovereign debt based QE program, the Euro zone economy and especially its equity markets would boom. Isn't that what the recent sell-off in Euro zone equities is saying, post the disappointing news that the ECB has no plans for a such a QE program. To us it's obvious why so many people think this way. It's because recent U.S. economic data seems to confirm that the Federal Reserve's unconventional, all-in easy money policies are working. And if such policies can work in America why not in the Euro zone too?

We reject this unwavering belief in central banks and their policies, outright. As the Austrians teach, easy monetary policies sow the seeds of their own demise. Flooding the economy and financial markets with money (and credit) created out of thin air - thereby distorting interest rates and price signals and, in so doing, creating malinvestments - is no way to create sustainable, economic growth and ever rising equity prices. Sure, at first glance, the malinvestments and attendant booming equity prices look like genuine growth and wealth creation. But they are not. As we explored here, they are instead unsustainable bubbles that turn to bust when the growth in those money supply (and credit) footings decelerate; i.e., when the easy money abates.

Today we posit some questions we think every equity investor needs to answer. What if the Austrians are right? What if unconventional, all-in easy money policies do not produce sustainable, economic growth? Contrary to the expectations of nearly everyone, what if the next big event is in fact a bust? What will that mean to the equity markets going forward? And then, what will that say about the credibility of central banks?

Well, if the Austrians are right, as we wrote here, given the size of this monetary experiment, one can expect a pretty big swoon in equity prices if not an ugly crash. More important though is the very real possibility that a bust could put a dagger in central bank credibility, severely damaging if not destroying the belief that unconventional, all-in easy money policies can goose the economy and equity markets anywhere near as effectively as in the past. Maybe, in real terms, not at all. Truly a problematic situation the next time central banks step in to "save" us. This we think is especially true if a bust occurs right here in America. Consider this: The former Federal Reserve Chairperson Ben Bernanke (and world renowned expert on the Great Depression) and his closest adviser current Chairperson Janet Yellen birthed the largest, most heralded, monetary support apparatus in world history and it was found unable to produce sustainable, economic growth, unable to float equity prices ever higher. Instead, it did the exact opposite. How many investors/speculators will then put their unswerving faith in any central bank, at least for the foreseeable future? We're thinking a lot, lot less.

Continue reading the rest of the article at Forbes.com.

 

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