Here we present a history of the Fed in charts. As you’ll surely glean from the below — the Fed has degenerated from a by and large passive institution (dealing only in high-quality self-liquidating commercial paper and gold) to an active pursuant of junk, an enabler of wars, a ‘benevolent’ combatant of the depressions of its own creation, a central planner of employment & prices and of course a forgiving friend to inconvenient market follies.

 

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Niall Ferguson and Andreas Schaab (Harvard) and Moritz Schularick (The Bonn Institute of Macroeconomics and Econometrics) have an interesting new study out detailing the history of central bank balance sheet expansions and contractions in “12 advanced economies since 1900.”

 

Mainstream economists tend to belittle the significance of this subject. Monetarists and Keynesians regard an elastic money supply, manipulated by central banks, as a desirable weapon to be used in smoothing out the business cycle. Some economists even go so far as to argue that with interest rates at record lows and inflation tepid, central banks should be directly monetising government infrastructure projects.

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The deflation bogeyman

May 17, 2014

 

Peter Schiff and Nouriel Roubini, two of the original “Doctor Dooms”, go at it hammer and tongs in the video above, in a discussion on the state of the US economy and the perennial inflation versus deflation debate. Not much love lost between them, though they keep the discussion civil.

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The French economist Thomas Piketty is being referenced a lot at the moment. In case you don’t know, Piketty has written a book called Capital in the Twenty-First Century – the title deliberately Marxist in tone – about the problem of growing inequality, and how capital’s ever-greater share of the world’s riches is leading us towards a system where inherited wealth is central to one’s personal fortunes (or otherwise).

 

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Financial warfare

Apr 29, 2014

War is the continuation of Politik by other means.

– Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831)

 

Regrettable though it maybe, but politics hasn’t died. Which means war hasn’t died either; though the tools of warfare are constantly evolving.

 

Clausewitz’s quote came to mind recently, when I read snippets from a recent interview the BBC’s Robert Peston did with Hank Paulson, US Treasury Secretary during the 2008 financial crisis. Paulson recalls how desperate he was that the Chinese – owners of some $1.7 trillion of mortgage-backed bonds issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – not start dumping these securities, so potentially leading to an even bigger crisis.

 

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In the 1930s and 1940s the default of a developed country sovereign was not uncommon. This is really difficult for us to grasp (we would have to be 80 years old to have experienced it). So just to remind you of how possible sovereign defaults are, here we present a list of (external currency) soveriegn bonds that defaulted during the 1930s:

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When looking at central bank balance sheets lately it’s easy to conclude that your portfolio should anticipate imminent cost-push inflation. After all, if you chart the major central banks’ balance sheets they’re all up and to the right like never before. Well, although this is a remarkable period in history (that may well see relentless inflation and/or sovereign default), it is not without precedent. If you go back far enough you’ll find that the world has experienced this type of environment before… and that the inflationary consequences of monetized fiscal deficits occur only over time. In order to give you a broad view of this subject, here we chart the history of the Bank of England’s balance sheet from 1844 to the present day.

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