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MMT – Modern Monetary Theory –or– Magic Money Tree?

Investors AlleyMMT – Modern Monetary Theory –or– Magic Money Tree?
The politicos are hawking Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) to finance their reckless spending. Investopedia explains: “Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is a heterodox macroeconomic framework…

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MMT – Modern Monetary Theory –or– Magic Money Tree?

The politicos are hawking Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) to finance their reckless spending.

Investopedia explains:

“Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) is a heterodox macroeconomic framework that says monetarily sovereign countries (that) spend, tax, and borrow in a fiat currency they fully control, are not operationally constrained by revenues when it comes to federal government spending.

…. The central idea of MMT is that governments with a fiat currency system under their control can and should print (or create with a few keystrokes) as much money as they need to spend because they cannot go broke or be insolvent unless a political decision to do so is taken. (Emphasis mine)

…. MMT theorists explain that debt is simply money the government put into the economy and didn’t tax back. They also argue that comparing a government’s budgets to that of an average household is a mistake.”

Why do economists use $2 words, when plain English would do? Heterodox defined: “Heterodox economics is the study of economic principles considered outside of the mainstream of economic thought.”

Chuck Butler provides a common-sense explanation:

“Dennis, remember when you were a kid and your mom told you money doesn’t grow on trees? Well, I call MMT, Magic Money Tree! The theory is governments can print all the money they want and use it for whatever they want. The government is a money tree!”

Business Insider reports the Fed is on board:

“Alan Greenspan: ‘There’s nothing to prevent the federal government from creating as much money as it wants.’

…. In 2009, former Fed chair Ben Bernanke was interviewed…about the federal government’s $1 trillion bailout of the banking system…. Bernanke was asked if the $1 trillion came from taxpayers.

He said, “No, it was printed. It’s not tax money. …. So, to lend to a bank, we simply use the computer to mark up the size of the account that they have with the Fed. It’s much more akin to printing money than it is to borrowing.'”

The interviewer asked, “You’ve been printing money?” Bernanke replied:

“Well, effectively. And we need to do that, because our economy is very weak and inflation is very low.”

Jim Rickards reports:

“Yellen’s nomination greases the skids for a disastrous policy that could lead to a monster crisis down the road – Modern Monetary Theory (MMT).

…. Putting former Fed Chair Janet Yellen as the new Secretary of the Treasury is a clear sign that MMT is what a Biden administration plans to do.

…. The government can spend as much as it wants and run the deficit as high as it wants because the Fed can monetize any Treasury debt by printing money and holding the debt on its balance sheet until maturity, at which time it can be rolled over with new debt.

This theory says that the U.S. can directly stimulate the economy and pay for a raft of new social spending. …. MMT would help real Americans.

Its advocates argue MMT could fund Medicare for all, free tuition, free child care, guaranteed basic income and aggressive climate action. (Emphasis mine)

…. With a former Fed head as new Treasury head, I’d say Mission Accomplished.”

How To Find A Financial Advisor

Free Money!

Pundit Bill Bonner asks, “Is a Permanent Stimulus Plan On the Way?”

“…. The American people will whoop and holler….

Look at this, reported by MassLive.com:

Nearly two-thirds of Americans are on board with a progressive proposal – backed by some Massachusetts lawmakers – calling on the federal government to cut monthly $2,000 stimulus checks to Americans over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, a new poll shows.

Data for Progress, a progressive polling and advocacy group, asked 1,166 likely voters across the country last week if they’d support or oppose the idea of a “$2,000 per month direct cash payment to every person for the duration of the pandemic.”

Sixty-five percent of respondents say they’d support recurring $2,000 checks…. Forty-one percent of respondents “strongly support” the idea, while 24% “somewhat support” it.

Note that this is not a one-time “stimulus” of $2,000 they are calling for, but MONTHLY checks…a permanent stimulus plan. It would function as a kind of monetary pacemaker…giving consumers a jolt every month just to keep their greedy little hearts pumping.

“The welfare state is a bribe to stop us from overthrowing the government.”
— Scott Horton
Does anyone ask, ‘Where will the money come from?’ Does anyone worry about the expanding federal deficits…or the tilting tower of debt?

No?

Why not?

Because they don’t have to.

And now, brains all across the country are abuzz about the great things coming down the pike. ‘Something for nothing’ is no longer a joke; it’s a fact of life.”

Bonner adds:

“Here’s TIME magazine:

Americans Need Recurring Stimulus Checks Until the Pandemic Is Over

Giving people money is a proven, fast, equitable strategy to spur economic recovery. The truth is, we need recurring stimulus checks in addition to established progressive policies – like unemployment insurance and the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit – that uplift all Americans, especially communities of color, until this pandemic is over.”

Will the theory work?

I searched for logical explanations; how and why MMT would work. Business Insider provides, MMT: Here’s a plain-English guide to ‘Modern Monetary Theory’ and why it’s interesting:

“When the private sector fails to provide full employment, MMT advocates support the idea of a ‘jobs guarantee’ that provides government-funded jobs to anyone who wants or needs one. The spending on such a program would be capped when the economy reaches full employment.

…. Forms of federal job guarantees have existed in the past. In 2002, Argentina introduced the Jefes Programme, which offered a job to the head of every household and paid a basic wage. Jefes participants worked on local community projects such as building and maintaining schools, hospitals and community centers; baking, sewing clothing, and recycling; and repairing sewers and sidewalks.

Policies deriving from MMT ‘will be attractive politically,’ according to Warren Mosler, the American financier…who helped develop and spread MMT. ‘We’ll get single-payer healthcare and all that.'”

I asked a friend who lives in Argentina about the Jefes Programme:

“On the Jefes Programme, it was implemented after the Convertibility crisis of December 2001, which brought Argentina’s GDP down almost 12% in 2002, the unemployment over the 20% mark and caused the poverty rate to jump from 20% to 30% in a year.

…. Beneficiaries were on paper requested to either do some sort of community job or to take some specific instruction – at least 4 hours a day. …. I can with little doubt say that this was the first of many social plans that followed and requested no obligations on the part of beneficiaries – plans that remain in effect today.”

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Inflation?

Supporters of MMT downplay inflation risk This graph (courtesy of Knoema) shows us all we need to know about inflation in Argentina.

Attractive Politically

One highly political site boasted:

“The rise of MMT could allow Democrats to embrace the de facto fiscal policy of Republican presidents, who tend to explode the deficit to finance pet initiatives like tax cuts and defense spending, leaving Democrats to clean up afterward.

…. That would be a big deal. Getting comfortable with new deficit-financed programs would help Democrats overcome the single biggest impediment to their agenda: raising taxes to fund their programs.”

Pardon me! Tax cuts put more money in the hands of the working class. Why is that bad, when the government giving away fake money is good?

All politicos are guilty of using the tax code to enhance their power. Extend and pretend is politically universal.

Business Insides suggests:

“First, the government can create jobs that the private sector has no interest in.

Second, the government can employ labor at a minimum wage. …. And the government will stop spending if all the workers end up in higher-paying private jobs.”

Yeah right! What incentive will people have to work? When has a government ever stopped a giveaway program?

Jim Rickards summarizes:

“…. MMT is a badly flawed theory. It assumes a mechanistic approach to money and inflation, which doesn’t exist in the real world.

Inflation is more of a psychological phenomenon based on expectations.
…. Once it becomes apparent to markets that you are monetizing all the new debt, confidence will erode, rates will climb and this pyramid scheme will collapse.

And once confidence is lost, citizens can turn to land, gold, silver, natural resources and other hard assets as dollar alternatives.

…. MMT is a disaster in the making (although it may take a few years to play out). It could end in hyperinflation and the destruction of the dollar as a viable currency.

It’s OK to borrow money if you invest in highly productive assets. But, if you just spend the money to support a stagnant economy with handouts, you’re simply digging a deeper debt hole for yourself.

…. Eventually, you end up with default, inflation, higher interest rates, higher taxes or all of the above. The U.S. will go broke.

It’s not quite the rosy scenario that the MMT crowd would have you believe. ….

Got gold?”

Like it or not, we are all part of this terrible experiment. It’s more about Big Brother and control than economics.

The ruling elite printing fake money is no different than weaving gold out of straw. It never worked and never will. Money doesn’t grow on trees, and neither does gold! This will not end well.

MMT – Modern Monetary Theory –or– Magic Money Tree?
Dennis Miller

Economics

Use Caution As the Pullback Could Continue for Ethereum

After making it back near $4,000 per token, Ethereum (CCC:ETH-USD) prices have pulled back in the past few weeks.
Source: shutterstock
Mainly, the pullback…

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After making it back near $4,000 per token, Ethereum (CCC:ETH-USD) prices have pulled back in the past few weeks.

Source: shutterstock

Mainly, the pullback was a result of the crypto flash-crash experienced on Sept. 7. But profit taking by traders who bought the popular altcoin before it surged due to the launch of its London Hard fork may have also played a role as well.

No matter the reason, one thing’s for sure. Don’t assume this latest pullback will be short-lived. Yes, with its increasing utility and institutional interest, Ethereum’s chances of hitting $4,000 again look high. So too, do its prospects of ultimately rallying to five-digit price levels.

Yet such a move may take time to happen. For now, with the concerns with crypto overall I’ve highlighted previously still on the table, and the likelihood that this rising uncertainty compels more traders to take profit, you can expect Ethereum to remain on its current downward trajectory.

Trading for around $3,100 as of this writing, a move back below $3,000 may be in the cards. For cryptocurrency investors with a long-time horizon, possible short-term volatility may not be a big issue. Buying now may still be worthwhile.

If you’re looking for a quick profit, however, you should hold off for now.

It May Be a While Before Ethereum Surges Again

Rival altcoins like Cardano (CCC:ADA-USD) could eventually give Ethereum a run for its money. But for now, ETH remains the main crypto used in DeFi, or decentralized finance, transactions. Recent and upcoming improvements could help it hold onto this dominance. I’m talking about last month’s hard-fork upgrades, plus its planned switch from running on proof-of-work (PoW) to running on proof-of-stake (PoS).

This bodes well for prices in the long term, assuming DeFi continues making its way toward getting critical mass, and starts to truly disrupt the traditional fiat-based financial system. What also bodes well for Ethereum is increasing enthusiasm for it by institutional investors.

For instance, growth stock guru and Ark Invest head Cathie Wood has become more vocal in her bullishness on Ethereum. But unlike with Bitcoin (CCC:BTC-USD), which she predicts will hit $500,000 within the next five years, Wood has not provided a definite number as to where this crypto is headed during the same timeframe.

Nevertheless, one crypto market commentator has taken her recent shilling of ETH, along with the large amount of Ethereum leaving exchanges, as a sign it’s fast heading to $10,000 as institutional investors dive into it with full force.

So, does this mean it’s high time to buy the dip, locking down a position before it makes a quick trip to five-digit prices? Not so fast! While there may be a path for it to ultimately hit such levels, it’s likely not happening soon.

Still Plenty in Play to Send It Back Below $3,000

Investors bullish on Ethereum may be on the money about its eventual move to substantially higher prices. Yet in the short term, there’s just too much going on to push it lower. First, there’s the increasing call for crypto market regulation. Admittedly, this is an existing issue, and one market participants have so far ignored.

Even so, that may not continue to be the case. At first, possible regulation by the U.S. may appear to be a sign that this asset class is ready for prime time, to be followed by a large inflow of institutional money. But what if the point of increased regulation is to prevent crypto/DeFi from growing in popularity?

Take, for example, the efforts by the Securities and Exchange Commission to prevent Coinbase (NASDAQ:COIN) from launching its Coinbase Lend service. It remains to be seen whether increased scrutiny of crypto products will affect usage growth for DeFi. If it does? This may challenge the idea that increased

Along with regulatory risk, there’s the risk that, if markets get rocky, speculative assets like cryptocurrencies will fall in price as well. With both uncertainties hanging over it, don’t be surprised if traders continue to take profit, sending Ethereum back below $3,000.

Only Buy Today If You’re in For The Long Haul

In the long run, ETH-USD may have a road to $10,000 and above. If DeFi takes off and institutional investors allocate more capital to this top altcoin, it may eventually make it to five-digit price levels. Just don’t expect to happen in a matter of months. At least until the issues weighing over it today clear up or play out.

As regulatory and market risks remain, traders looking at it as a short-term play should be cautious with Ethereum. Holding it through uncertainty could pay off on the other side.

On the date of publication, Thomas Niel held long positions in Bitcoin and Ethereum. He did not have (either directly or indirectly) any positions in any other securities mentioned in this article. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the writer, subject to the InvestorPlace.com Publishing Guidelines.

Thomas Niel, contributor for InvestorPlace.com, has been writing single-stock analysis for web-based publications since 2016.

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Economics

The dot plot thickens

All eyes on FOMC meeting FOMC day finally arrives with markets already being buffeted by a variety of inputs. Although I expect the FOMC to not give too…

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All eyes on FOMC meeting

FOMC day finally arrives with markets already being buffeted by a variety of inputs. Although I expect the FOMC to not give too much away on the tapering front, the best we can expect I believe is a signal that they will make a firm decision on whether to start at the November meeting, we could in for a surprise on the latest dot plot. The dot plot, which charts FOMC members’ timelines for rate hikes or cuts could see more members moving hiking expectations into 2022. We may not get a taper tantrum lite from tapering comments, but we could from a more hawkish dot plot. I’ve long given up hope that US bond yields will react materially, but we could see a further extension to the US dollar rally and equities and commodities probably won’t have a good day at the office.

It is a busy day for central banks anyway with the Bank of Japan announcing its latest policy decision this morning. Like Indonesia yesterday, I expect no change from the BOJ, with a new prime minister to be chosen next week and an election to hold in the next couple of months. They may downgrade growth expectations and hint that more stimulus is ready should the economy slow, which should be supportive of Japan equities. Paraguay sneaked in a 0.50% rate hike this morning Asia time, and Brazil this evening, after the FOMC looks set to hike rates by another 1.0%. With Russia also on a hiking path, parts of the EM world could become attractive carry propositions if Mr Powell keeps the dovish hat firmly on. Turkey should be hiking, but that is a quick path to unemployment if you are the central bank governor.

Mainland China returns to work today although Hong Kong markets are on holiday in a game of tag. China has left its one and five-year Loan Prime Rates unchanged at 3.85% and 4.65% respectively as expected. Another RRR cut, probably early in Q4, is my favoured easing path for the PBOC. With one eye on the Evergrande saga, which has captured the world’s attention, the PBOC has injected a chunky liquidity injection today of CNY 120 billion via the 7 and 14-day repos. Whether that is enough to soothe frayed nerves in China remains to be seen.

What has soothed nerves is Reuters reporting that Evergrande’s Hengda Real Estate unit will make coupon payments on onshore bonds that was due tomorrow. That saw an immediate jump in the risk-correlated Australian and New Zealand dollars, and some buying coming into early Asian equity markets. However, the Evergrande story will keep on giving with the Financial Times reporting yesterday that Evergrande issued wealth management products sold to Chinese retail investors were used to plug financial holes in various subsidiaries. Concerns also swirl around its stake in a regional Chinese bank and whether it has been borrowing from itself effectively. The coupon payment story is likely only a temporary reprieve with no signals from the Chinese government over what steps, if any, it will take to assist an orderly wind down or restructuring.

US markets are contending with their own challenges in addition to the FOMC. The House of Representatives passed a vote to extend the US debt ceiling until after next year’s mid-term elections and will vote on a full bill today. It will likely be dead on arrival in the US Senate though, with Mitch McConnell as much as saying so, forcing the process into reconciliation to pass. The tiresome gamesmanship over the debt ceiling from both sides should be another reason for the Fed to stay on the cautious side of things this evening.

Natural gas prices continue to make headlines with European gas prices having climbed by over 400%. Most of the noise is around the 10-20% of gas that producers keep for the spot market and here it seems Asia is winning the bidding war. Gazprom is reluctant to increase export volumes to Europe above contracted amounts, meaning no spot gas. Bemusingly, signals from Russia suggest that a quick approval and certification of the new NordStream2 pipeline could result in an immediate increase. All Europe and Asia, to a lesser extent, can do, is hope for a mild winter at this stage. Europe is paying the price for its naivety in tying energy security to Russia in the hope that it would be a reliable partner. That’s like me turning structurally bullish on cryptocurrencies and starting to call them an investable versus tradeable asset class.

For today, Evergrande has knocked the FOMC meeting into second place in the attention of Asian investors. I expect regional markets to be buffeted by headlines emerging from that situation and the price action after the coupon payment news suggests dip buyers hungrily await in everything if even tenuous positive news arrives.

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Economics

When Will “Transitory Inflation” Overstay Its Welcome?

There has been much talk of "transitory inflation", but the evidence is starting to suggest the term may overstay its welcome.

The Fed chose the word…

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There has been much talk of “transitory inflation”, but the evidence is starting to suggest the term may overstay its welcome.

The Fed chose the word “transitory” to describe this instance of rising prices because of its imprecision. Transitory can denote hours, months, or decades. Using transitory versus a specific period provides the Fed freedom to be wrong but be grammatically correct.

While the Fed uses ambiguous words, Mr. Market may have more defined expectations. If investors grow impatient with the Fed’s transitory, bond markets may react. In such a case, how will the Fed respond to “enduring” or “lasting” inflation coupled with higher yields? If they are already tapering, will such conditions push them to speed up their pace?

Conversely, recent data shows inflation may be stabilizing. Maybe the Fed is correct, and inflation rates will normalize in the coming months. If so, will they hold off on tapering or reduce the rate of tapering?

In July, we wrote Just How Transitory is Inflation?  The article is a deep dive analysis of CPI. At the time, we sought a better understanding of what was causing inflation to rise. With two more months of inflationary data, an update is essential.  

Understanding inflation beyond the headlines helps us answer the all-important question: Just how transitory is transitory? From there, we can begin to assess potential Fed and market reactions.

Headline CPI Summary

In the latest CPI report, covering August, the monthly CPI figure rose by 0.3% or 3.6% annualized. The year-over-year rate is +5.30%. In comparison, June’s monthly CPI rose by 0.90% or nearly 11% annualized. Despite the big difference in monthly rates, June’s year-over-year change of +5.40% is only 0.10% higher than August.

As shown, the monthly CPI and core (excluding food and energy) are turning lower. While not as pronounced, the annual data is following suit. Two months does not make a trend, but it appears to be fulfilling the transitory definition. Core CPI, at +0.10% last month, is 0.10% below the average for 2017-2019. Headline CPI is only 0.10% above the average.

The headline data is supportive of the transitory narrative; however, it does not tell the whole story.

The Breadth of CPI

Digging deeper into CPI and looking beyond the headline averages may not support the word transitory. The graph below shows the CPI Index based on the median price of the goods and services in the index. Unlike the headline CPI Index, median CPI is still rising and at the highest level since 2008.

The distribution graph below compares June to August regarding how the prices of all the underlying goods and services within CPI are changing on an annual basis. We separate the data into 2% price buckets.

The blue (August) and orange (June) bars comparing the two months may look somewhat similar, but there are differences worth discussing.

In June, 75% of the CPI components were rising at a rate slower than the 5.4% inflation rate. In August, 71% were rising at a slower rate than the 5.3% rate of inflation.

The number of goods whose prices rose between 2% and 10% increased from 66 to 77. The number of goods whose prices rose by 2% or less fell from 72 to 55. While subtle in the graph, the number of goods shifting to the right (more inflation) is noteworthy.

52 of the goods and services have price declines from June to August. Six were unchanged, and 95 had price increases. Again, more goods are rising in price than falling.

The breadth of the market is not supportive of the transitory theme. A wide swath of prices are broadly rising, albeit not at an alarming pace.

Outliers

In the original article, four goods had year-over-year price changes of greater than 20%, as shown below.

  • Used Cars 45.2%
  • Gasoline 45.1%
  • Fuel Oil 44.5%
  • Other Motor Fuels 32.1%

In the August report, six goods had greater than 20% increases. The four goods from June maintain annual 20% rates of inflation. Added to the list are propane and utility services.

The inflationary outliers continue to be energy and auto-based. Both are rising in large part due to the reopening of the economy and supply disruptions. We expect both will moderate in the coming months. As this occurs, they will put less upward pressure on the CPI Index.

Employee and school cafeteria food prices are down well below 20%. Over time these should moderate as schools and offices come online. Such will result in inflationary pressures.   

Big Contributors

In June, 92% of CPI was due to the price changes of the ten largest index weightings, as shown below. Those ten goods played slightly less of a role in August, contributing 82% to the change in the index. Below is a comparison of the same ten contributors for June versus August.

The prices of Used Cars and Transportations rose at a lesser rate than June, but every other category was little changed.

In the original article, we warn Shelter prices are the most considerable risk to more inflation. Driving our concern is Shelter’s 30%+ contribution to CPI and rapidly rising home and rent prices.  As we show above, higher home and rental prices are barely making their way into CPI.  

What gives?

In our article BLS’ Housing Inflation Measure is Hypothetical Bull****, we stated: It appears impossible to calculate the BLS version of OER or rent.”

We remain concerned that a double-digit increase in rent and home prices (OER) will push Shelter prices higher in the months ahead. However, history proves reality, and the BLS Shelter measure has a near-zero correlation.

Flexible Prices

As we wrote in June, CPI tends to be heavily correlated with goods and services that have flexible prices. These are goods like gasoline, whose prices tend to fluctuate both up and down. The Atlanta Fed publishes data on flexible and sticky prices, as shown below.

The graph shows sharp increases in both flexible and sticky-price goods are leveling off over the last two months. Given the Atlanta Fed measure of flexible prices has a 96% correlation with CPI, we are hopeful the upsurge is halting.

Expectations

The graph below shows a glaring divergence between Wall Street inflation expectations and those of Mom and Pop. Five and ten-year market-implied inflation expectations have been stable since January. All the while, the University of Michigan survey of consumers sees steadily rising inflation expectations.

While Wall Street buys into the transitory theme, consumers are not. This divergence matters as personal consumption drives about two-thirds of economic activity.

The New York Fed, via their latest Consumer Expectations Survey, highlights why confidence is weak. Per their survey, expected inflation is now over 5% and rising. At the same time, expected wage growth is 2.5% and stable/falling. As a result, consumers expect to lose 2.64% (red line) in purchasing power over the next year. Would you be confident taking a 2.64% pay cut?  

Summary

We are witnessing unprecedented pressures on the supply and demand side of pricing equations. Forecasting, with such uncertainty, is challenging. As such, we maintain a humble approach to inflation forecasting.

The latest round of data provides some evidence inflationary pressures are abating. However, the breadth of the data tells us there are still many goods and services still rising in price. This difference may help explain why consumer inflation expectations are higher than the market’s and confidence is falling.

Just How Transitory is Transitory? We suspect the market will have its answer in the next few months. Prolonged rising or high inflation beyond December will likely get many to question if inflation is truly transitory. Until then, pay attention to headline inflation, the breadth of the data, and especially any effects from rising Shelter prices on CPI.

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