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.
The balance sheets of the major central banks of the world are in a dangerous state. In the United States, the European Union and Japan they have basically printed money to buy debt, counting the debt securities purchased as an asset and the money paid for them in the liability column. Despite many mistakenly believing China’s central bank must be in good shape with all the U.S. government debt held in its asset column, this overlooks its liability column. Reviewing the magnitude of central bank liabilities, the implications on future policy and potential economic challenges, arguments can be made that central bankers are either wisely learning from history or the equivalent of fools playing with matches in pools of gasoline of their own pouring. Unfortunately their lackluster track record argues more for the latter than the former.