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Well That Didn't Work

The Bank of Japan and European Central Bank eased recently, which is to say they stepped up their bond buying and/or pushed interest rates further into negative territory. These kinds of things are proxies for currency devaluation in the sense that money printing and lower interest rates generally cause the offending country's currency to be seen as less valuable by traders and savers, sending its exchange rate down versus those of its trading partners.

This was what the BoJ and ECB were hoping for -- weaker currencies to boost their export industries and make their insanely-large debt burdens more manageable. Instead, they got this:

JPY/USD 1 Week Chart

EUR/USD 1-Week Chart

Both the yen and the euro have popped versus the dollar, which means European and Japanese exports have gotten more rather than less expensive on world markets and both systems' debt loads are now harder rather than easier to manage. And it gets worse: Japan's yield curve has inverted, meaning that long-term interest rates are now lower than short-term rates, which is typically a harbinger of recession. Here's a chart from today's Bloomberg:

Japan 10-Year Yields below overnight rates

This sudden failure of easy money to produce the usual result is potentially huge, because the only thing standing in the way of a debt-driven implosion of the global economy (global because this time around emerging countries are as over-indebted as rich ones) is a belief that what worked in the past will keep working. If it doesn't -- that is, if negative interest rates start strengthening rather than weakening currencies -- then this game is over. And a new one, with rules no one understands, has begun.

 

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