Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Kasriel: Dubya

by Bill McBride on 1/21/2009 06:23:00 PM

From Northern Trust Chief Economist Paul Kasriel: DUBYA

No, our title does not refer to our 43rd president. Rather, it refers to the shape of an economic scenario that is beginning to look to us as the most probable going forward. The current economic environment is indeed bleak and there are precious few signs of a recovery. But we believe that if the massive fiscal stimulus package being worked up in Congress is financed largely by the banking system and the Federal Reserve, there is a good chance the economy will begin to grow by the fourth quarter of this year and continue to do so throughout 2010. And if we are correct on this, we also believe there is a good chance that the consumer price index will be advancing at a fast enough pace by the second half of 2010 to induce the Federal Reserve to become more aggressive in draining credit from the financial system. This could set the stage for another recession commencing in 2012, or perhaps some time in 2011. So, the shape of the path of economic activity we see over the next few years is not a “V”, a “U”, or an “L”, but a “W” – down, up, down, up, all within four or five years.
I think there is a good chance that the stimulus package will lead to positive GDP growth later this year (although we still need to see the details) . Northern Trust is forecasting positive GDP growth in Q4 2009.
[W]hat is our rationale for a late-2009 economic recovery and a subsequent 2011 or 2012 slowdown/downturn? Massive federal spending funded by the Federal Reserve and the banking system. The Obama administration and Congress are in the process of developing a two-year fiscal stimulus package that at last, but likely not the final, count totals $825 billion. This fiscal stimulus program will include all things to all people – traditional and non-traditional infrastructure spending, aid to state and local governments, expansion of food stamp and unemployment insurance programs, and tax cuts for households and businesses. This massive federal spending and tax cut program will be financed by issuing additional federal debt. Who is likely to purchase this debt? The Federal Reserve and the banking system.
This is an interesting suggestion. I've been concerned about rising rates because of the huge financing needs of the U.S. government. Kasriel is suggesting this debt will be bought by the Federal Reserve to keep rates down.
The implication of the banking system and the Federal Reserve monetizing large proportions of nonfinancial sector borrowing – government or private sector – is that the borrowers are able to increase their spending without any other entity cutting back on its spending. Thus, in terms of the GDP accounts, total spending in the economy increases. This is why we expect a recovery in real GDP by the fourth quarter of this year.

If monetizing nonfinancial debt were costless, economically speaking, the Zimbabwean economy would be the envy of the world. But, of course, there are economic costs. Monetizing debt means printing money. And printing money ultimately leads to accelerating prices – prices of goods, services and assets.
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If we are correct that a real GDP recovery commences by the fourth quarter of this year, then we believe the Federal Reserve will cautiously begin slowing its credit creation in the first half of 2010 – that is, the Fed will begin to slowly increase the federal funds rate. We then see inflationary pressures intensifying in the second half of 2010 and the Fed reacting to this with more aggressive hikes in the federal funds rate. This is what we believe will trigger the next official recession, or at least, growth recession.

In conclusion, over much of 2009, the year-over-year change in the CPI is likely to be negative. We advise investors not to extrapolate this “deflation” into 2010 and 2011. With the massive monetization of debt that is likely to occur, increases in the CPI are expected to resume.
It is amazing how people are swinging from fears of inflation to fears of deflation to fears of inflation again.