The Central Banks’ Time Machine is Broken

September 3, 2019

Last week we wrote about how global central banks have created an economic time machine by forcing $17 trillion worth of bond yields below zero percent, which is now 30% of the entire developed world’s supply. Now it’s time to explain how the time machine they have built has broken down.

In parts of the developed world, individuals are now being incentivized to consume their savings today rather than being rewarded for deferring consumption tomorrow. In effect, time has been flipped upside down. These same central bankers then broke that time machine by guaranteeing investors they will never cease printing money until inflation has been firmly and permanently inculcated into the economy.

They have printed $22 trillion worth of new credit in search of this goal since 2008. This figure is still growing by the day. But by doing so, they have destroyed Capitalism. Freedom is dying; not by some Red Army but by central banks.

The savings and investment dynamic, which is the backbone of capitalism, only functions when savings gets rewarded. No sane person would defer consumption today in order to be assured that they will be able to consume less of it tomorrow. Without savings, there can be no investment, and without investment, there can be no productivity. And since productivity accounts for half of GDP, without it there will be a massive reduction of the goods and services available to absorb the increased money supply that is being created. This will serve to significantly increase the rate of inflation.

That is where the time machine breaks down. Owning negative-yielding debt can only make a modicum of sense in the context of unbridled deflation because it would make real yields positive. However, owning negative-yielding debt—that guarantees losses if held to maturity– while the rate of inflation is positive and is being forced yet higher by central banks, is untenable and the apogee of irrationality.

According to Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Investment grade Corporate debt outside of the US now totals $27.8T, with the yield on that debt of just 0.11%. And there is $1 trillion worth of corporate debt now with a negative yield. The central banks’ goal of inflation targeting ensures the destruction of capitalism and will lead to an economic collapse such as never before witnessed.

This process can be best viewed by the fact that the German government just sold 869 million euros of 30-year bonds with a negative yield for the first time in its history. However, the problem was it tried to dump 2 billion euros of 30-year sovereign debt and was only able to get off 43% of the offering—that is known is a failed auction and offers proof that the central bank time machine is broken. Only the European Central Bank (ECB) could accept negative rates regardless of where real yields are. However, investors can’t accept negative yields when the average year over year Consumer Price Index (CPI) in the European Union (EU) has increased by 1.6% in the past 12 months. Since nominal rates are negative and real rates are even further below zero, the chance of an absolute global bond market revolt is rising dramatically by the day.

Turning to the U.S., the core rate on CPI increased by 2.2% year over year in July and has been above 2% for the past 17 months. While nominal Treasuries still provide a historically minuscule nominal yield, the real yield on such debt is negative across the entire curve. A negative real yield in the U.S. doesn’t make sense in the context of a Fed that wants to push inflation sustainably above 2%. This is especially true given the solvency concerns associated with owning Treasuries. The U.S. faces trillion-dollar annual deficits indefinitely, and the national debt now stands at $22.5 trillion, which is 105% of GDP and 661% of federal revenue.

Indeed, the entire globe has become debt disabled and dependent upon interest rates that are perpetually decreasing. Global debt has soared to $250 trillion (a record 320% of GDP).  Central banks have increased the base money supply by $22 trillion in the past decade in order to make this debt load appear solvent. What governments don’t understand is once that 633% increase in global money supply begins to catch fire, inflation will start to run intractable. This means the collapse of the global bond market is inevitable.

The sad truth is that there is almost nothing central banks can now do now except pursue hyperinflation by using Modern Monetary Theory (MMT) and Universal Basic Income (UBI). In other words, helicopter money to keep asset prices and the global economy from collapsing. The reason: consumers, businesses and governments have become so saturated with debt that reducing interest rates no longer boosts consumption. Consumers cannot afford the principal at any interest rate—not even slightly less than zero. And that, by the way, is where most central banks are already.

This broken time machine is showing up in the data. It has pushed the Cass Freight Index, which measures North American rail and truck volumes, down 0.8% in July from the prior month marking its eighth month of declines and a drop of nearly 6% from a year ago.

According to the IHS Markit’s Flash US PMI report, the Manufacturing PMI dropped below the 50 mark for the first time in almost a decade in August and the Services PMI in the same period slumped to 50.9 from 53 in July.

Last Thursday the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) revised its count for net new jobs created in 2018 and thru March of 2019. The result was an overstatement of jobs by 501,000 employees. It was the largest revision since 2009.

So, let’s sum up all this dysfunction in case you are still not aware:

  • Global growth has stagnated, and there is a manufacturing recession worldwide.
  • The US manufacturing sector is contracting, and the service sector is approaching that same condition, according to IHS Markit data for August.
  • Year over year S&P 500 EPS growth has crashed to the flat line, according to Factset
  • The best recession predictor, which is the spread between the Fed Funds Rate and the 10-year Note, has been inverted for the past four months.
  • The trade war with China is intensifying, and the yuan is dropping precipitously.
  • Aggregate global debt has soared by over $70 trillion since 2008
  • Central banks have printed $22 trillion in the past decade to keep all of this insolvent debt from crashing.
  • But now, central banks have reached their limit to lower borrowing costs, and the economy has reached a debt–saturated condition.
  • The savings and investment dynamic is going extinct thanks to the broken central bank time machine.
  • That same broken time machine is leading to a bond market supernova.

Between August 1st thru October 30th, we are in what I call an economic dead-zone –three months where there will be most likely only one 25 bps rate cut from the Fed and the trade war is slated to rapidly intensify. That 25-basis point reduction isn’t nearly enough to revert the plunging yield curve or to placate an apprehensive Wall Street. This is a period of time where there is a significant chance for a major decline in stocks.

Michael Pento is the President and Founder of Pento Portfolio Strategies, produces the weekly podcast called, “The Mid-week Reality Check” and Author of the book “The Coming Bond Market Collapse.”