We are entering a new era for central banking, where the freedom to pursue the easy money policies of the past are receding. To the degree cheap money has fueled the global economy and market rise since 2009 this development is particularly worrisome for the near term. Conversely, insofar as central bank policies have created market imbalances and stood in the way of needed structural reforms this will be a long-term positive over the coming decades. In short the easy money party is winding down. And that means stock market risk is higher now than at any point since 2007.
It is increasingly clear that the arrangements at the center of the world’s monetary system are fraying. On Monday Standard & Poor’s cut its outlook on the credit rating of the United States to negative indicating there is a very real possibility for a downgrade. By Tuesday gold prices topped $1,500 an ounce. Also last Friday China admitted inflation was picking-up steam, as it announced an official annual uptick of 5.4 percent that almost surely understates the true amount. On the European front Moody’s downgraded Ireland’s credit rating last Friday. That action followed earlier comments from Germany’s finance minister that Greece may default on its debts. All of this came despite the world being in the midst of an economic recovery.
In hindsight it’s ironic that the economy of the nineties was described as the Goldilocks economy—not too hot, not too cold, but just right for high employment and strong growth. Ironic, because the real moral of the story people should have heeded is that there is no free lunch. And, like in the Goldilocks’ fairy tale, three unfriendly bears emerged. If the nineties was the Goldilocks economy then the period we now find ourselves in of both weak growth and employment might best be described as the three bears economy. Since 2000 there was the baby bear of the dotcom bubble, the mamma bear of the residential real estate bubble and the daddy bear of the government debt bubble—corporate, consumer and now government-led bubbles of unproductive and hence unsustainable spending.