The Fed’s next focus is on wages

by Gavyn Davies

March 9, 2014 4:08 pm

A few weeks ago, this blog advanced the theory that the behaviour of the major central banks, which had dominated market attention for so long, would not be the decisive element for asset prices in 2014. With the Fed, the Bank of England and the ECB all increasingly doubtful about the effectiveness of further growth in their balance sheets, the central banks had become much more circumspect about how much more monetary policy could achieve. Supply side pessimism was gaining ground.

So far, so good for this theory. The Fed has embarked upon tapering by auto pilot”, and seems increasingly satisfied with its handiwork. A moderate recovery in GDP growth, along with much diminished risks of financial market disruption, is sufficient. They are in no hurry whatsoever to reduce the size of their balance sheet, and that could yet cause trouble; but nor do they show much urgency to return the US economy to its long term output trend.

Emergency policy interventions like QE3 in 2012 have been replaced by an atmosphere of calm. Following the example of the medical profession, they seem to have decided: “first, do no harm”.

As a result, the markets’ expectations for interest rates have become more stable, and are now almost exactly where the central banks would want them:

The path for forward short rates in the US is precisely in line with the median forecast of FOMC members. The ECB’s promise of an “extended period” for near-zero rates, followed by a very gradual rise thereafter, is also very apparent. In the battle to tame the markets’ short rate expectations, which raged at times last year, the central banks have decisively been declared the winners.

That is no bad thing. The period of monetary shock and awe was fascinating for macro-economists, but it scarcely signalled that the global economy was in a healthy condition. Now that the developed economies seem to be returning to normal, the central banks are becoming more boring again. They are rock stars no more.

Where next for the Fed?

The US economy has been significantly affected by bad weather for several months, but otherwise seems to be growing slightly above trend, as had been widely expected.

New York Fed President Bill Dudley said last week that it would take a major change in his perception of GDP growth to induce any change in his view about tapering, adding that he thought that underlying growth in the economy was still in the vicinity of about 3 per cent. In this, he probably spoke for the vast majority of the FOMC, including Janet Yellen, and the latestnowcastdata (see graph) also support his view.

Significantly, he indicated that he was satisfied with the markets’ expectation that the first rise in the short rate would come in mid or late 2015.

We have known for a while that a couple of hawkish participants at the FOMC (eg Charles Plosser and Jeffrey Lacker) have wanted to raise rates as early as this calendar year, and that others (Jeremy Stein, Richard Fisher and Daniel Tarullo) are becoming more concerned about bubbles in asset prices. But it is interesting to hear a prominent dove like Bill Dudley accept that rates should begin rising about 18 months from now.

It is likely that one or two of the most dovish outriders on the committee (Eric Rosengren and Charles Evans, for example) still see a case for a much longer period of zero rates, perhaps stretching well into 2016. But at the moment that is very much a minority view, with the bulk of the committee apparently comfortable with the expectation that a gradual increase in rates will begin next year.

The splitting of the centrist group of moderate doves from the arch doves is a notable development, which may change the balance of risks compared to previous years. Until recently, the basic rule has beennever underestimate the dovishness of the Fed”. Now, a more hawkish path for forward rates than that built into the forward curve seems conceivable, though that will depend on events.

In the near term, Bill Dudley said that the Fed would soon have to eliminate the 6.5 per cent unemployment rate threshold, and he added that he saw advantages in the Bank of England’s new framework, under which a large number of different measures would be used to assess the tightness of the labour market. This new BoE framework is the latest flavour of the month, and it will probably be endorsed at the next FOMC meeting on 18-19 March. In effect, it ditches forward guidance in favour of maximum flexibility to respond to future events, and is another sign that policy is normalising.

Wages will be judge and jury

In the longer term, it is likely that wages will emerge as the indicator that matters most for the FOMC. In the ongoing debate about how much spare capacity is left in the labour market, the behaviour of wages is increasingly being viewed as decisive.

Paul Krugman points out that there is no sign yet of any generalised increase in wage inflation, and argues that the Fed should not even consider tightening until wage inflation is back to its pre-crisis rate of almost 4 per cent per annum. The arch doves on the FOMC probably agree with him. But Tim Duy’s Fedwatch says that any rise in wage inflation above 2 per cent will quickly worry the Fed, which has always in the past started to raise rates as soon as this threshold has been reached. That is probably what the bulk of the FOMC now thinks.


So there we have the likely shape of the next major controversy about Fed policy. Ms Yellen’s view on this is not yet known, but her public statements so far have clearly been designed to reflect the centre ground on the FOMC. Any sign of a general rise in labour costs could bring forward the date of the first rate rise.

Markets should therefore watch the monthly wages data even more closely than they watch the non farm payrolls in future.

To misquote James Carville: “It’s wage inflation, stupid!”

The Innovation Enigma

Joseph E. Stiglitz

MAR 9, 2014
Newsart for The Innovation Enigma

NEW YORKAround the world, there is enormous enthusiasm for the type of technological innovation symbolized by Silicon Valley. In this view, America’s ingenuity represents its true comparative advantage, which others strive to imitate. But there is a puzzle: it is difficult to detect the benefits of this innovation in GDP statistics.

What is happening today is analogous to developments a few decades ago, early in the era of personal computers. In 1987, economist Robert Solowawarded the Nobel Prize for his pioneering work on growthlamented thatYou can see the computer age everywhere but in the productivity statistics.” There are several possible explanations for this.

Perhaps GDP does not really capture the improvements in living standards that computer-age innovation is engendering. Or perhaps this innovation is less significant than its enthusiasts believe. As it turns out, there is some truth in both perspectives.

Recall how a few years ago, just before the collapse of Lehman Brothers, the financial sector prided itself on its innovativeness. Given that financial institutions had been attracting the best and brightest from around the world, one would have expected nothing less. But, upon closer inspection, it became clear that most of this innovation involved devising better ways of scamming others, manipulating markets without getting caught (at least for a long time), and exploiting market power.

In this period, when resources flowed to thisinnovativesector, GDP growth was markedly lower than it was before. Even in the best of times, it did not lead to an increase in living standards (except for the bankers), and it eventually led to the crisis from which we are only now recovering. The net social contribution of all of thisinnovation” was negative.

Similarly, the dot-com bubble that preceded this period was marked by innovationWeb sites through which one could order dog food and soft drinks online. At least this era left a legacy of efficient search engines and a fiber-optic infrastructure. But it is not an easy matter to assess how the time savings implied by online shopping, or the cost savings that might result from increased competition (owing to greater ease of price comparison online), affects our standard of living.

Two things should be clear. First, the profitability of an innovation may not be a good measure of its net contribution to our standard of living. In our winner-takes-all economy, an innovator who develops a better Web site for online dog-food purchases and deliveries may attract everyone around the world who uses the Internet to order dog food, making enormous profits in the process. But without the delivery service, much of those profits simply would have gone to others. The Web site’s net contribution to economic growth may in fact be relatively small.

Moreover, if an innovation, such as ATMs in banking, leads to increased unemployment, none of the social costneither the suffering of those who are laid off nor the increased fiscal cost of paying them unemployment benefits – is reflected in firms’ profitability. Likewise, our GDP metric does not reflect the cost of the increased insecurity individuals may feel with the increased risk of a loss of a job. Equally important, it often does not accurately reflect the improvement in societal wellbeing resulting from innovation.

In a simpler world, where innovation simply meant lowering the cost of production of, say, an automobile, it was easy to assess an innovation’s value. But when innovation affects an automobile’s quality, the task becomes far more difficult. And this is even more apparent in other arenas: How do we accurately assess the fact that, owing to medical progress, heart surgery is more likely to be successful now than in the past, leading to a significant increase in life expectancy and quality of life?

Still, one cannot avoid the uneasy feeling that, when all is said and done, the contribution of recent technological innovations to long-term growth in living standards may be substantially less than the enthusiasts claim. A lot of intellectual effort has been devoted to devising better ways of maximizing advertising and marketing budgets targeting customers, especially the affluent, who might actually buy the product. But standards of living might have been raised even more if all of this innovative talent had been allocated to more fundamental research – or even to more applied research that could have led to new products.

Yes, being better connected with each other, through Facebook or Twitter, is valuable. But how can we compare these innovations with those like the laser, the transistor, the Turing machine, and the mapping of the human genome, each of which has led to a flood of transformative products?

Of course, there are grounds for a sigh of relief. Although we may not know how much recent technological innovations are contributing to our wellbeing, at least we know that, unlike the wave of financial innovations that marked the pre-crisis global economy, the effect is positive.

Joseph E. Stiglitz, a Nobel laureate in economics and University Professor at Columbia University, was Chairman of President Bill Clinton’s Council of Economic Advisers and served as Senior Vice President and Chief Economist of the World Bank. His most recent book is The Price of Inequality: How Today’s Divided Society Endangers our Future.

China’s Road To Secret Gold Accumulation

In august 2013 I published a translation from an article written by a Chinese gold commentator called Zhang Jie. In the article Zhang described how not only the US but also other western countries have been involved in manipulating the price of gold to control the international monetary system for decades. I suggest to read the full article - here are a few snippets:

Gold leasing is an important innovation in the gold settlement system. Through continuous gold leasing the gold in the market can be circulated and produce derivatives, creating more and more paper gold. This is very significant for the United States. Gold leasing is a major tool for the Federal Reserve and other central banks in the West to secretly control and regulate the gold market, creating gold credit derivatives and global credit conflict.

…The purpose of gold leasing is not just to receive a rent, but it also provides the ability to short-sell gold, which allows central banks to interfere in the currency market.

If the Fed’s large gold reserves are used in gold leasing, there will be a serious problem. Germany therefore will threaten the Fed’s dominant position by demanding their gold back; the Fed subsequently needs to withdraw the leased gold and thus could destabilize the market. This is a new credit game of international capital.

…The Fed probably has agendas aimed at preventing Germany to inspect its gold or to ship it back to Germany.

I recently came across another article by Zhang that I also found worth sharing. First you can read the article, then I will provide some comment. This article is dated 16-04-2013, but it must be a repost as the data in the text shows it had to be written Jan/Feb 2013. Everything in between [brackets] is written by Koos Jansen.

Translated By Soh Tiong Hum!

Zhang Jie: China’s Road To Secret Accumulation

2013-04-16  Author: Zhang Jie

Zhang Jie

Core hint: China may gradually acquire gold on the international gold market through non-central bank financial entities, the newly acquired gold shipped back to China to be converted into central bank gold reserves. Credit in various forms including gold reserves will support China’s Renminbi and its internationalization.

Unless military confrontation or economic sanctions take place between China and US, there should be little question about the safety of China’s gold reserves stored at the US Federal Reserve. The question of China’s gold is not its safety but rather to possess the ability to use it for market intervention, and to boost creditworthiness of the Renminbi.

Difficult To Bring Back Gold

Risk of losing China’s gold stored at the US Federal Reserve can be temporarily set aside because in comparison to China’s foreign exchange reserves, the risk to China’s foreign exchange reserves is larger than the risk of gold deposited at the Federal Reserve! Regardless of buying sovereign debt or depositing in the US financial system, there is risk of a mass default. A mass failure to fulfill obligation by Western countries should no longer be called a default but a crisis. Cash deposited inside the financial system has even more danger. Western banks can go bankrupt, even large corporations like Lehman. Therefore risk has to be looked at in relative terms, not just absolute ones. The gold question should be looked at from the angle of the global currency system. Whether gold should be stored in China has to be considered for the level of creditworthiness.

The PBOC operates on a ‘poolconcept, which also needs gold. Considering the global credit game, it is highly necessary for China to develop her own gold reserves and must do so with a better strategy than Germany.

The US has already demonized China’s rise so if China were to ask to bring back her gold, it would surely lead to a tremendous confrontation. When China first shipped her gold to the US, it was meant for reform, opening up and removing US economic sanctions. To ask for the gold back now would be a political signal. China can wait to look at Germany’s outcome before considering to repatriate it’s own gold from the Federal Reserve. China does not yet have to pull her chestnuts out of the fire. If China were to make a fuzz about their gold, Western countries will point their fingers at China, but not to Germany because of their close relation.


Accumulating Gold To Convert FX Reserves

China can use its increasing foreign exchange reserves to buy gold continuously. When the US and European central banks are continuously leasing and short selling gold, China can buy this gold and take possession, adding them to domestic reserves.

It’s best to let domestic financial entities acquire gold rather than the PBOC, to create multiple positions in the domestic gold futures market, to create the impression of forced buying by private hands so as to shut off international opinionPurchased gold is withdrawn from the futures market, stored with reserves held in core financial entities then moved to the PBOC for domestic safekeeping. Just like Western central banks use gold leasing and short sell gold, China also needs to employ deception to secretly accumulate gold in a timely manner.

It is a good time for China to use surplus foreign exchange reserves to purchase gold when central banks around the world are secretly leasing gold and short selling gold to prop up currency printing. During the 10 years after gold leasing was born [early eighties] the world sold gold short, while during the gold bull market short sellers in the gold leasing business covered their shorts. International gold price fluctuations after 2008 was when gold short selling commenced again, especially at the time when gold fell from USD 1900 and US and Western countries were running endless quantitative easing. With the gold price is running contrary to quantitative easing, it is highly probable that Western central banks or major institutions were short selling gold. With China acquiring gold till a currency crisis erupts and short sellers need to cover their position, international gold price will certainly rally, possibly resembling eighties like fluctuations. It is therefore a tremendous opportunity for China to buy gold now to hedge against risk from a global currency crisis.

China in possession of large amounts of gold, China has secretly accumulated more gold, is a way to fight developed countries that are depreciating their currencies with quantitative easing; China’s gold accumulation gives them caution about short selling gold and currency printing. This is the most effective means to protect China’s foreign exchange reserve wealth from the threat of the Western financial hegemony.

Great Wall of China

China’s GDP and foreign exchange reserves already exceed Germany’s. Therefore China must possess effective control over gold volume not less than Germany’s gold reserves. At the current price of USD 1700 per ounce, one ton of gold is worth USD 50 million. When gold rises to USD 2500 per ounce, one ton of gold is worth USD 75 million. If China brings in 10,000 tons, foreign reserve spending is merely USD 800 billion but this volume is roughly 30% of gold in global circulation [he means global official reserves!] and is going to be pole position in global markets. Spending such a small expense to swallow such a massive gold position is only possible when the world is short selling. Otherwise price will go sky-high when you buy 10,000 tons! Buying US government debt with China’s current foreign exchange reserves at USD 3.3 trillion yields less than the 0.25% Fed Funds Rate. With this very low yield, buying gold is a good deal.

More than 80% of the PBOC’s currency in circulation is foreign exchange. Depreciation by foreign currencies such as US Dollar forces Renminbi to lose its purchasing power and increases turbulence. This was the reason why China imported inflation years ago. If China buys gold in large amount now, she can choose to support the value of Renminbi with gold in future. Purchased gold will support Renminbi creditworthiness. At the moment, Renminbi’s creditworthiness is supported by the central bank’s foreign exchange reserves but the creditworthiness of foreign exchange in its possession is a function of the issuing country, not China. Supporting China’s creditworthiness is not just about buying gold but also buying China’s sovereign debt, government debt, core industry debt, Chinese real estate, Chinese rare earth, tungsten, antimony and so on. However, besides foreign exchange gold and precious metals are the most appropriate for use overseas to support Renminbi’s export and international policy.

The foreign exchange standard has more problems than a gold standard. The Renminbi wants to be internationalized and China wants to be wealthy and strongIf the Renminbi issuance remains linked to the US Dollar, then the Renminbi will just resemble many so-called international currencies, becoming merelyproxy of the US Dollar, unable to match the creditworthiness of the US Dollar

Internationalization of a pegged-Renminbi is a make-believe internationalization, just like the Hong Kong Dollar, freely changeable but confined to linked rates.


Though he’s not a politician Zhang provides us with interesting insights about China’s monetary policy.

My thoughts:

Zhang writes; “there should be little question about the safety of China’s gold reserves stored at the US Federal Reserve” (I asked my interpreter if this is really what he wrote, he really did..), while he clearly states these reserves held by the Fed are leased out and are thus NOT save. A few sentences later he writes; “Risk of losing China’s gold stored at the US Federal Reserve…”. In fact the rest of the article is about the importance of the PBOC holding official gold reserves in the mainland to strengthen the Renminbi. I don’t understand why he wrote the gold is safe in the US in the beginning.

When China first shipped her gold to the US, it was meant for reform, opening up and removing US economic sanctions.” This underlines the dirty game the US is playing. It demands countries to store a part of their official gold reserves at the New York Federal Reserve so ultimately only the US controls the global currency market. According to this article, written in January 2013 by Liu Zhongbo from Agricultural Bank of China, at least 600 tons of Chinese official reserves are stored at the Fed.

“It’s best to let domestic financial entities acquire gold rather than the PBOC, to create multiple positions in the domestic gold futures market, to create the impression of forced buying by private hands so as to shut off international opinion. Purchased gold is withdrawn from the futures market, stored with reserves held in core financial entities then moved to the PBOC for domestic safekeeping.” I fully understand the PBOC is buying gold through proxies, however all my sources in the mainland ensure me the PBOC would never (indirectly) buy at the Shanghai Gold Exchange, which is the only domestic futures/deferred market where significant amounts of gold are being withdrawn from the vaults. On the Shanghai Futures Exchange withdrawals are neglectable. Maybe Zhang’s approach is wrong here.

The PBOC wants to diversify it’s FX reserves (USD) in gold, all gold on the SGE is quoted in RMB. It would make more sense for the PBOC to buy gold abroad in exchange for dollars, this would also circumvent SGE premiums. On the Chinese Foreign Exchange Reserves of the People’s Republic of China wikipedia page (not on the English page) it states:


The FX reserves of the Chinese mainland are State-owned assets and managed by SAFE and the PBOC. The real operations are done by the Bank of China.

The Bank Of China is a commercial state-owned bank and LBMA member, just like ICBC. It’s more likely the PBOC would make purchases through these channels.

In Gold We Trust