US Recession Indicators - September 2011 - Market turmoil edition

According to data from negative Real Interest Rates, another US recession is likely to occur between 2011 Q4 and 2012 Q4, with 2012 Q1 the most likely... See below.


Net Monetary Base vs Inflation (spread)

The growth of the Net Monetary base (M0 minus excess reserves) over inflation has been above the historical average since September 2010 and has remained high at 646 in August 2011.

The results for August were higher than expected but I think a peak is likely to have been reached. M0 declined between July and August from 2706.799 to 2679.481, while Excess Reserves declined during the same period from 1618.188 to 1583.525. The result was an increase in Net M0, since reserves declined faster than M0. Over the following months, this should lead to a converging of inflation with the growth of net M0.

Inflation in August was 3.8%, the highest it has been since October 2008.

Nevertheless since the introduction of QE2 in November 2010, the net monetary base has increased faster than inflation.
Note: A negative result implies that inflation is growing faster than the money supply, an event which indicates that a recession will occur within 1 to 36 months (with an average of 12 months)
Note: All recessions are preceded by a negative result.

Data Series:
St Louis Fed


Federal Funds Rate vs 10 Year Bond Rate (spread)

Like last month, I have factored in recent market turmoil in this indicator. August ended with a reading of 220 after 10 year bond rates plummeted to 2.3% for that month. By the close of trading on 2011-09-22, rates have dropped further to a record low of 1.72%, which has led to a mid-monthly reading of 163. What I said last month still applies:

If this indicator stays true to its historical data, then there will be one of two events leading up to the beginning of the recession.

The first is if the Federal Reserve will keep the Federal Funds rate effectively at zero, which it will do barring any major inflationary outbreak. If this occurs then 10 year bond rates will drop to zero as well, or at least converge to within a few basis points. This appears to be the situation currently.

The second event will occur if the Federal Reserve increases rates in response to an outbreak of inflation. If this occurs then the Federal Funds rate will exceed the 10 year bond rate, thus placing the indicator into negative and presaging a recession. Inflation has been increasing markedly in the last six months, so this event may yet be the result.

Note: A negative result implies a highly restrictive monetary environment, an event which indicates that a recession will occur within 4 to 39 months (with an average of 22 months).
Note: If both the first and second graphs are negative at the same time it indicates that a recession will occur within 1 to 21 months (with an average of 11 months).
Note: All recessions are preceded by a negative result.

Data Series:
St Louis Fed



Real 10 Year Bond Rates Rates

Real ten year bond rates came in at -0.83% in August. As I have pointed out before, all experiences of negative 10 year bond rates since the 1950s have resulted in an eventual recession.

If we take previous instances of negative real bond rates into account, a recession will start between 2011 Q4 and 2012 Q4, with 2012 Q1 the most likely. These previous experiences also indicate that unemployment will also likely peak between 12.1% and 18.7%, with a result around 16.9% the most likely.
Note: Real Interest Rates based upon 10 year Bonds can indicate how the value of money is determined in comparison with the market's safest investment. A negative result implies that inflation is eroding the savings of those who have invested in 10 Year Bonds. A negative result over a three month average indicates that a recession may occur between 4-18 months, with an average of 8½ months and a median of 6 months.
Note: Not all recessions are preceded by negative real 10 year bond rates. Nevertheless all instances of negative 10 year bond rates (since the 1950s) have been followed by a recession.

Data Series:
St Louis Fed



Market Capitalisation adjusted by USDX

(The orange line is the recession line, the red line is the line of resistance)

Data Sources




Writing Dreams

Two recent events have rocked the world of a couple of internet denizens.

The first is David C. Simon, the creator of the webcomic Crimson Dark. Simon, a talented user of computer graphics and scriptwriting, has been nabbed by the Game company that is producing "Star Wars: The Old Republic". Simon's role will be mainly in writing, but there's no doubt that his skills in creating Crimson Dark were an important part of this process.

The second is that a Redditor named Prufrock451 with a good script idea is now in talks with a Hollywood company. While this is early days yet, it is the culmination of a very quick few weeks in which the Redditor began writing a sci fi/fantasy story in which a Marine battalion in Afghanistan is transported back in time to ancient Rome. The story, called Rome Sweet Rome, started off mere weeks ago as an experiment in writing that somehow gained a huge following amongst Redditors. Just the mere idea of Machineguns mowing down Praetorian Guards got people involved, not just in reading but also in editing. I suppose you could call it a Saw and Sandal epic (see here).


A proposed solution: Co-ordinated international fiscal and currency policy

Synopsis: A new international agreement between China, Japan the US and the Eurozone should be made to boost economic growth: The US Dollar should be actively depreciated against the value of the Japanese Yen and the Chinese Yuan; Japan and China should enact substantial stimulus programs while the US dollar drops in value. This should boost internal demand in Japan and China which would result in a higher amount of goods and services exported from the US. The Eurozone should also enact a stimulus program while depreciating the Euro slightly. This would ensure both an increase in overall economic growth in all nations while solving the current account imbalances which helped create the economic crisis in the first place.

Due to the inter-relationships between various economies and the imbalances that occur between them, it strikes me that one of the better solutions to the world's current malaise would be to enact some sort of co-ordinated fiscal and monetary policy.

I am one who believes that our current situation has arisen mainly due to imbalances in world investment. Huge current account surpluses in some nations have led to a permanent culture of saving while huge current account surpluses in other nations have led to a permanent culture of borrowing. As a result, certain nations have become "geared" to either saving & production or borrowing & consumption. The response to the economic crisis so far has not resulted in a move away from this imbalance but has rather sought to entrench it further. For example, policy in the US is all about the importance to reviving consumption, either via various stimulus packages or quantitative easing - all of which are designed to boost consumption and reduce saving. Meanwhile, China and Japan and other nations geared towards saving and production continue to manipulate forex markets to keep their nations producing and their citizens saving, all the while waiting for the US to begin consumption and borrowing again.

Well let me suggest the opposite as a solution.

If we want to rebalance the world economy at the same time as boost it, then there needs to be a shift towards balanced current accounts. This would mean that the US would no longer be the world's borrower and consumer, and Japan and China no longer be the world's saver and producer. It would work something like this:

  1. A new "Plaza accord" is agreed upon between the US, China and Japan and the Eurozone. This agreement would see a depreciation in the value of the US dollar against the Japanese Yen and the Chinese Yuan. A small depreciation in the Euro would also occur.
  2. At the same time as this occurs, the governments of China, Japan and the Eurozone enact substantial fiscal stimulus programs to boost internal demand.
  3. The increase in internal demand from Japan and China combined with a lower US Dollar will result in an increase in US production.
  4. All three nations, along with the Eurozone, agree to have a currency board to ensure that a balanced current account exists between them. This currency board would not exist to peg the three currencies but to merely ensure that the current account remains balanced within the limits of a floating currency.

What this will do is ensure that future Chinese and Japanese economic growth is no longer linked to US consumption and borrowing. The stimulus program in China and Japan should increase the demand for US goods and services. This would increase aggregate demand in the US without relying upon US government spending. Now to some questions about this:

How does the Eurozone fit in?

The Eurozone already has a balanced current account. Unlike many commentators I support the notion of the Eurozone and believe that it is an optimal currency area, which means that any internal current account imbalances amongst Eurozone countries is not as important as the current account of the whole. At present, the Eurozone's current account is nicely balanced, which means that any new Plaza accord should aim to change the current account balances of China, Japan and the US, but not the Eurozone. Of course the stimulus program in the Eurozone would only be useful if the current account remains balanced, which is why only a small depreciation in the Euro is required.

But the US doesn't produce anything!

This is plainly wrong as any judicious person knows. The US has the world's largest manufacturing base. Any increase in external demand will result in an increase in US manufacturing. In order to boost manufacturing and create jobs (especially for those with lower skills) a balancing of the current account must be undertaken.

Can we trust the currency boards?

So long as there is an agreement between the nations involved, so long as the boards are kept free from political and market influence and so long as they are answerable for the decisions they make, then they should be trustworthy.

Can Japan afford it?
Japan's long period of economic malaise has been accompanied mainly by a lack of internal demand. Balancing the Japanese current account and enacting a stimulus would ensure that any boost in economic performance arising from the stimulus is felt mainly in internal demand. In short, Japanese consumption - which is problematic - will be boosted; simultaneously US production - which is problematic - will be boosted. Accompanying this new economic situation will be a decrease in Japanese savings levels - which are too high - and an increase in US savings levels - which are too low. The result of this should be an increase in Japanese economic growth and, with it, an increase in tax revenue. Japan's public funds are certainly problematic, and so I would suggest an increase in tax rates accompany the increase in government spending. The short term boost in spending - which would boost economic growth - would then give way to a longer term sustainable economic performance which, because taxes are higher, would result in increase government revenue and more government debt being paid off. It stands to reason that the Bank of Japan change its policy to, at the very least, prevent long-term deflation (a phenomenon that is felt more by the Japanese GDP deflator than in the CPI).

What about Wall Street?
Let the follow rather than lead. With an increase in US manufacturing and exports, Wall Street should begin investing in companies that actually produce goods and services. Then Wall Street will be doing its job properly.

What about the rest of the world?

With China, Japan, the US and the Eurozone combined, this agreement accounts for over 75% of world GDP. The other 25% will probably need further international agreements - but at the moment we can leave that for the future.

What about US Conservatives?
This agreement won't need much in the way of further government spending for the US. US Conservatives couldn't care less about Japanese, Chinese or European big government spending. Actually, they should be happy that US goods will be increasingly sold in China. They should also welcome the profits made by US industrialists.