During the height of the euro crisis, politicians in Europe, and indeed central bankers, blamed the markets and credit ratings agencies. Yesterday an official at the Fed followed that tactic too.
Richard Fisher, president of the Dallas Federal Reserve, told the ‘FT’: “I do believe that big money does organize itself somewhat like feral hogs. If they detect a weakness or a bad scent, they go after it.”
He also took the opportunity of being interviewed by the ‘FT’ to remind us all about George Soros – the man who shorted sterling in 1992, beat the Bank of England and hastened the UK’s departure from the ERM. He likened today’s feral hogs to Mr Soros, but is that right?
Being a messenger is never a good place to be, not if you bring bad news anyway. When Eurozone politicians blamed credit ratings agencies, and what they called bond vigilantes for the woes in Europe, they were surely deluding themselves. They had fooled themselves into thinking the crisis was less serious than it was, and they thought they could talk until the cows came home. The markets went some way towards correcting their complacency.
By hastening the UK’s departure from the ERM, George Soros probably did the UK a favour.
But what about this time?
Markets are selling because there are fears that interest rates are set to rise. The Fed has said as much, and even in China there are signs of monetary tightening.
But don’t forget that the news out of the US has been good of late. To remind you of two of the highlights: US banks’ profits were at an all-time high in Q1, and US households have cut debt substantially since 2007.
As things stand, the Dow remains substantially up on its start of year position as does the Nikkei 225 in Japan. And that makes sense. Markets probably overdid their exuberance in May, but both the US and Japan are in a better place now than they were at the beginning of the year.
As far as equities are concerned, in addition to fears about the Fed tightening monetary policy, some are nervous about the possibility that US profits to GDP are set to fall. But in the long run, profits to GDP falling and wages to GDP rising is surely good thing.
Even higher interest rates are a good thing, if higher rates are symptomatic of the economy returning to normal.
But higher interest rates will be bad news for those with high debts, and for that reason the UK and – more so – the Eurozone may lose out.
The FTSE 100 has not performed as well as US markets this year. Unlike the Dow, it never did pass its all-time high. And unlike the Dow, the FTSE 100 has now fallen to within a whisker of its start of year price. That is probably about right.
But at least the UK has its own central bank, free to print money and buy bonds via quantitative easing.
The countries of the indebted Eurozone do not have such a luxury, which is why Europe may yet be the biggest loser.
Image: Pig In Pen by Kim Newberg
© Investment & Business News 2013