If one looks at both nominal and inflation-adjusted treasury yields for the next five years, the market does not think near term austerity is necessary. In fact, it is pretty clear that the market wants more treasury issuance not less, with negative real yields through at least the next five years. With fiscal stimulus being reined in, the market expects the Fed to be the stimulator of last resort (and all the Fed can do is try to promote inflation through bond purchases), hence the gold price is rising as the market expects an even longer period of negative real interest rates.
Our economic problem is simple, we went from a period of over-stimulated and debt-fuelled real estate investment running at 8.5% of GDP to a collapse in real estate investment down to 4% of GDP. The collapse in real estate prices reduced the collateral value on trillions of dollars of loans and forced austerity among consumers.
To deal with the problem we needed only three steps:
- Recapitalize the banks to prevent an uncontrolled unwinding of leveraged positions (done);
- Increase temporary transfer payments to individuals to prop up consumer spending while savings levels are increased (done, but in danger of being unwound); and
- Increased government investment in infrastructure to put the millions of unemployed construction workers to work (not done, we focused on health care instead).
Business investment, exports and consumer spending have been doing fine since we came out of the recession, but the markets are fearing that a pullback in government spending worldwide, combined with continued weakness in real estate investment will tip the scales to recession.
I personally think the odds favor us muddling through for the next year or so and avoiding recession, and that the recent market correction is probably overdone. That does not mean I am calling a bottom, because the momentum could overwhelm the facts on the ground. I do, however, feel ok nibbling at stocks at this level.
With US banks in far better shape than in 2008, I don’t see a mini-replay of that crisis as the major threat to the economy. Europe has major issues, but they are also solvable in due course as long as Germany steps up to the plate. The next crisis may come from exactly where we don’t expect it today: a crash in emerging markets leading to global deflation.