Minding the Gap: Potential Real GDP vs. Real GDP

I was listening to Tom Keene Friday morning on Bloomberg Surveillance (a great show to listen to, by the way) and Tony Cresczenci was discussing the “output gap” or as I always thought of it, the difference between potential and actual real GDP.  So I made this chart to illustrate how I view it:

The blue line is forecasted potential real GDP while the red line is the actual real GDP.  The black circle represents the output gap and you can see it’s significant.  In fact, you can’t find a much bigger one (at least when you see it visually) since, well, you know when.  So just from a visual standpoint that tells me something.

But what about the sideways purple parabola?  That represents a range of projected paths real GDP can take.  I don’t know what the true shape of that parabola is, it can look the one above or it can look the one below, or anything in between:

Now if we assume potential GDP in the blue line is accurate, or said differently, we have no reason to believe it is inaccurate, recovery is all about seeing the gap between the red and blue lines close.  Hence the v-shaped recovery paradigm.  But what about other scenarios?  Other outcomes?

To answer those questions I went back to some of the earliest posts I wrote and found a few I wrote on Thailand and Japan which took a look at how things have turned out in both of those countries, because they’re the closest experiences we can draw on to compare with our current situation.  So thinking about the purple parabolas, we have four basic scenarios: the red line flattens out, it rises parallel to potential real GDP, the aforementioned v-shape or it falls again (the double dip).  The last two are easy to see and recognize so I’m focusing on the other two.

If the red line flattens, congratulations: we’ve replicated Japan.

If the line continues on a parallel path, we would’ve replicated Thailand post-97:

But I can’t help but bring up unemployment, because discussions of Japan and Thailand that don’t factor in that dimension are incomplete.  Here are the charts I have on that:

On one hand, we see in Japan that fewer people are producing a constant level of output, while in Thailand, more people are producing output but the gaps between the path of GDP in the mid 90s and its current one are widening.

If either scenario happens here, neither one is going to be a positive development.

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Paul McCulley does Modern Monetary Theory | Credit Writedowns – And My Thoughts

I’ve been trying to make sense of the macro landscape since, well, that’s just what I do.  One of the frameworks I’ve been trying to learn more about is Modern Monetary Theory, but I have to admit it has been a bit of a mind-bending experience and I’ve not always had the greatest success getting my head around it.

Having said that, when I read about Paul McCulley of PIMCO doing MMT, I wanted to see what I could find out.  So I wrote up a question for Edward Harrison at Credit Writedowns, who I have a great deal of respect for:

Interesting stuff. Edward, I have two questions for you:

1) I agree with you about this being a secular change in aggregate demand instead of a cyclical change. So in your mind, will the MMT approach work? Maybe you said it already, but perhaps you could re-state.

2) China taking on the consumer of last resort makes sense given their surpluses. Do you think the news regarding the Dagong’s rating of the US vis-a-vis China is about getting cheaper costs of funds to take this role on or is about capital inflows because credit and real estate are facing headwinds there now?

Thanks as always.

via Paul McCulley does Modern Monetary Theory | Credit Writedowns.

Here’s Edward’s response:

Yes, MMT works. But, remember MMT is just a framework -a lens – through which to view actual economic events. It is a very useful framework though because it forces one to look at all individual transactions or any aggregate shift as having two parties with balance sheet effects.

If I reduce my purchases from you that has implications not just for me but for you too. A lot of politicians try to talk about the budget deficit in a unitary way without working through the numbers.

This still doesn’t get away from the longer term problems regarding the (mis)allocation of real resources (monetary and physical). But it doesn’t allow people to cheat intellectually and act like austerity will be positive for the economy.

I was actually in bed when I saw this via my friend Scott and got up just to write a quick blurb on it. So I am headed back there now! More in the morning.

Looking forward to what he has to say on this…

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I Guess I’ll Say it Here…: America’s Lost Decade

Left this comment for Sean McLaughlin, but I thought I’d share it here as well (emphasis, mine):

Sean, this is great.  Thanks for sharing.  As someone who focuses on long term/bigger picture timeframes as opposed to intraday, what your post talks about is the importance of keeping your risk/return objectives and timeframe in sync.

I’ll tell you for me, the noise I strive to filter out is the daily/intraday moves a lot of traders are looking to in order to make money.  But the big picture moves I use to strategically build/unwind positions are the things intraday guys filter out.  So we’re running around each other trying to block out what the other group is doing.

It can drive you mad, but it’s worth it if you do it right.

via I Guess I’ll Say it Here…: America’s Lost Decade.

And sometimes I should listen more to my own advice…

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And So It Begins…

I asked people about a scenario like this unfolding two years ago and was looked at like I had three heads…

The financial calamity of the European Union’s sovereign debt woes has shaken the pillars of the postwar ideal of a united Europe. The debt crisis and the global downturn have left many European countries looking inward these days and viewing Brussels as increasingly irrelevant.

Germany, long a postwar champion and financier of European integration, is flexing its muscles more independently. And more of its citizens are questioning the country’s leading role in the European project.

On a recent day, Christian Gelleri buys a sandwich and a glass of Hefeweizen at a rustic, sun-filled outdoor beer garden along the Inn River in the Upper Bavarian town of Stefanskirchen.

But the 40-year-old isn’t paying with euros. The bar also accepts chiemgauer, the thriving local currency named after a region in Bavaria.

via From Stalwart To Skeptic, Germany Rethinks EU Role : NPR.

Me and my other two heads aren’t looking so out of place anymore, I gather…

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A Trillion Here, A Trillion There, Pretty Soon You’re Talking About Real Money

What a way to start out the week:

The European Central Bank, the Bank of England and the International Monetary Fund have all recently warned of a looming crunch, especially in Europe, where banks have enough trouble raising money as it is.

Their concern is that banks hungry for refinancing will compete with governments — which also must roll over huge sums — for the bond market’s favor. As a result, credit for business and consumers could become more costly and scarce, with unpleasant consequences for economic growth.

via Crisis Awaits World’s Banks as Trillions Come Due – NYTimes.com.

Wow.  I didn’t know I could get a S**t Sandwich special first thing on a Monday…

And in case that wasn’t enough, they threw in a menacing chart for emphasis:

And just in case you still didn’t get the message, there’s this quote from the article:

“There is a cliff we are racing toward — it’s huge,” said Richard Barwell, an economist at Royal Bank of Scotland and formerly a senior economist at the Bank of England, Britain’s central bank. “No one seems to be talking about it that much.” But, he added, “it’s of first-order importance for lending and output.”

And so this is where I roll out one of those Minsky charts that illustrates this.  Oh, wait:

But why all the fuss over banks being able to roll the debt over?  Forget the amount for a second.  The key is to look at the average maturity:

A study in November by Moody’s Investors Service found that new bond issues by banks during the past five years matured in an average of 4.7 years — the shortest average in 30 years.

Now why does that matter?  It matters because there’s this issue called a maturity mismatch, where the assets and liabilities have different maturities.  Usually the assets are longer dated than the liabilities because when a yield curve is upward-sloping like this (from the FT)…

The incentive is to borrow short-dated funds and lend on long-dated assets.  I’ve covered this in similar ways before talking about duration hedging in the past where you measure sensitivities to interest rate moves, and this follows in a related vein.  When the yield curve inverts, or you have rate shocks at the front-end of the curve, you can find yourself in a precarious position if you have a lot of paper to roll.  Which is exactly where a lot of banks are finding themselves now.

But take a look at this section from the article (emphasis mine):

The financing crunch has its origins in a worldwide trend for banks to borrow money for shorter periods.

The practice of short-term borrowing and long-term lending contributed to the near-collapse of the world financial system in late 2008 when short-term financing dried up. Banks suddenly found themselves starved for cash, and some would have collapsed without central bank support.

Government bank guarantees extended in response to the crisis also inadvertently encouraged short-term lending. The guarantees were typically only for several years, and banks issued bonds to match.

So the maturity mismatch issue played a huge role in getting us into this mess, and the government’s response may very well end up in exacerbating the problem.

Brilliant… I might as well go build a house and then torch it myself…

And Tim Backshall has a very interesting chart that shows the spreads between senior bank debt and sovereign are highly correlated and compressing.  That means the lines between sovereign and bank debt in Europe are getting blurrier:

One other facet about this problem: the link between external bank funding and Euro Libor:

Bond issuance by financial institutions in Europe plunged to $10.7 billion in May, compared with $106 billion in January and $95 billion in May 2009, according to Dealogic, a data provider. New issues have recovered somewhat since, to $42 billion in June and $19 billion so far in July.

My take: proof positive that the funding crisis for European banks is ongoing and getting worse.  How so?  Simple.  Longer dated bond issuance has fallen, which has led to a change in the maturity profiles of European bank liabilities.

Because the banks are rolling into shorter-dated Libor based funding…

Which has lead to the run-up in the Euro…

One way to mitigate this risk is matched maturity funds transfer pricing – where the asset side of the balance sheet has the same maturity profile your liabilities has.  I’m going to leave you with this paper which I also posted on Scribd:

And a link to this post by Don van Deventer at Kamakura, that has some really good ideas on how to implement funds transfer pricing effectively.

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What to Do With All That Cash…

This is an extension of some discussions I’ve been having and some blogs I had recently written on inflation and bonds.  Because as you think about inflation and investment returns, you inevitably come to a point where the discussion turns to the cash on corporate balance sheets.  I was going to put up some charts based on the Federal Reserve’s Flow of Funds data but thanks to Google, the Trader’s Narrative and the good folks at the Financial Times, I don’t have to (click here for the video).  But let’s take a look at some of these charts to tee this up:

Indeed, this view shows there’s a record amount of cash available. But when you look at it on a debt-adjusted basis…

Not so massive a pile now, is it?

Share buybacks seem to be the most obvious use of the excess cash at the moment.  And with good reason.  The prospects for future growth don’t look particularly good at the moment.  So if you were going to do fundamental analysis of equities right now via a dividend discounting model (let’s use the Gordon Growth Model as an example):

Your denominator gets larger as the spread between required rates of return and growth rates expand.  And as a result, the valuation for the stock is lower. If this sounds like a bearish case based on fundamental analysis, it is.  How do you boost the price in this event?  Simple: demand a lower rate of return.  Good luck in getting your investors to go along with that.

But let’s try to take this train of thought and think strategically.  If you’re a corporate Treasurer or CFO and view the economy and your business the same way, that means you would be expecting P/E multiple compression: prices fall while earnings level off and growth rates turn anemic.  All of which leads to an interesting question: why do a buyback now if you can get more bang for the buck later?  The case could be made for saving some dry powder.

As always, feel free to leave a well-reasoned, on point comment.

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While Euro Libor Gently Weeps

In my mind there’s not much else to say about Libor in the Eurozone.  The charts do all the talking for me:

The curve is shifting out at a rapid pace, in a bear steepening fashion.  Looks like liquidity situation in Europe is getting worse, which keeps the Libor rates moving upward rapidly. And the Euro has followed suit:

This brings up an interesting point about the risk-on/risk-off trade: it depends on who you’re talking about.  For most people in the world, the risk-on trade is to hold anything except dollars.  Risk-off is to convert those holdings into dollars. For European banks, however, they have to convert everything back into Euros.  So with the removal of Euro-denominated liquidity facilities, “risk-off” takes on a different meaning.

Regardless, the funding squeeze continues…

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