“I went home, with new matter for my thoughts, though with no relief from the old.” Charles Dickens’s novel, “Great Expectations” (Chapter 48)
A deluge of money printing and ardent yield repression by leading central banks of course are not the only important potential sources of inflation. Assorted marketplace guides proclaim a variety of opinions regarding relevant inflationary factors and their relationships and consequences. And everyone knows that economic, political, and social conditions, programs, and challenges differ, often significantly, between countries.
Central banking mandates and interpretations regarding them are not precisely the same. Central banks do not have an easy job. In his story “A Christmas Carol” (Stave 3), Charles Dickens states: “it is always the person not in the predicament who knows what ought to have been done in it, and would unquestionably have done it too”.
However, all the bankers preach devotion to their mandate. The Federal Reserve Board, European Central Bank, Bank of England, Bank of Japan, Bank of Canada, and the Swedish central bank for the past several years have shared a faith and proclaimed a gospel that achieving and sustaining about two percent inflation is a “good” goal. Thus many leading global central banks believe “too low” inflation (and of course deflation) is “not good” or is “bad”.
Central banking decisions, actions, and rhetoric around the globe have become increasingly interdependent since the eruption of the international economic disaster of 2007-09. Banking captains nobly stress their willingness to do whatever it takes and whatever they must, frequently pointing to their beloved toolkit of monetary measures. Thus they embarked on highly accommodative monetary policies such as yield repression and gigantic money printing and generously provided forward guidance. Yet despite their long-running and devoted odyssey aimed at achieving and sustaining the praiseworthy target of two percent inflation, the armada of central banks thus far has failed in its inflationary quest. Their great expectations have not generated great results.
Since inflation (including too low inflation and deflation) concerns and wordplay are so significant for current marketplace analysis and trends, it pays to select and assess variables indicating whether a sufficient and sustained quantity of inflation is appearing or may soon do so. Observers can differ in their choices and viewpoints.
“Inflation”, however defined and measured, may appear earlier in one nation or region than another. Moreover, just because some or sufficient inflation (or deflation) emerges in one territory, they need not do so elsewhere. In any case, let’s focus on America. Not only does the United States play a crucial role on the world economic and political stage, but so does the Federal Reserve Board. Stock, interest rate, currency, and commodity marketplaces avidly monitor Fed statements, signals, and behavior. Finally, America nowadays apparently is (however slowly) showing signs of being a key leader in international GDP growth.
US POLITICS: BLEAK HOUSE
In Dickens’s “Great Expectations”, a character says: “’Ask no questions, and you’ll be told no lies.’” (Chapter 2)
Most Americans have high (or at least moderate) confidence in and trust the US Federal Reserve Board. In contrast, many Americans nowadays have rather low expectations regarding US politicians “in general”. They distrust and have rather little confidence in most US political leaders. They question the willingness and ability of such representatives to work together to achieve desirable goals.
Focusing on central banks and their monetary measures aimed at achieving sufficient inflation should not cause observers to overlook political causes, including fiscal ones, of inflation and higher interest rates. And interest rates can rise for reasons other than, or in conjunction with, inflation pressures.
In any case, weak national political leadership and substantial political divisions do not guarantee rising interest rates, but they can encourage that development. They also can help to generate a weaker dollar.
The United States currently is a house divided. Income and asset inequality, immigration debates, views on health care, opinions on the appropriate size and role of government, international trade topics, climate change, and other issues inflame America’s political theater. In election year 2016, as in the prior few years, there has been greater than normal partisan strife.
These ongoing significant US political divisions risk further weakness in the US dollar. Underscore the current conflict between the Republican Congress and the Democratic President. Though the American political process has a long way to go until election season 2016 concludes, partisan warfare likely will persist. The House likely will remain Republican; the President probably will be a Democrat (Hillary Clinton). Control of the Senate is a close call.
The battles within the Republican camp look likely to persist for at least a few more months. Will there be a convention fight? “Trump warns Republican elders of ‘riots’ if they fail to back his candidacy”, headlines the Financial Times (3/17/16, p3). Although Trump has great confidence in his own talents, at present the majority of Americans apparently do not share that confidence. Suppose Donald Trump captures the Republican Presidential nomination. Imagine that he wins the Presidency. Comments from overseas leaders suggest lack of faith in Trump’s abilities and policies. Such foreign attitudes are a bearish factor for the dollar.
An ability to transcend partisan divisions only via big spending (fiscal irresponsibility) does not eliminate substantial underlying political factionalism. The massive addition to future US budget deficits agreed upon by Congress and the President in late December 2015 probably will tend to push up interest rates and is a bearish factor for the dollar. (See the Congressional Budget Office’s “Summary of The Budget and Economic Outlook: 2016 to 2026; 1/25/16. See also the NY Times, 12/17/15, pA29; NY Times, 12/19/15, ppA1, 13). In any event, America has a looming long run debt problem. And don’t debtors tend to like inflation?
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Great Expectations- the Federal Reserve, Inflation, and Politics (3-20-16)