Albert Edwards Weighs In On BoJ, ‘Bonkers’ US Fiscal Policy

Albert Edwards isn’t optimistic about… well, anything really, but this week he’s concerned about America’s fiscal trajectory.

As far as I’ve been able to discern over the years, Albert’s an affable soul and seems to generally enjoy life. (In stark contrast to myself.) It’s hard to know, on any given week, whether the often dour message conveyed by his musings is genuine disdain or just Edwards staying “in character” for his readership.

Complicating interpretation is the almost jovial cadence Albert adopts while delivering apocalyptic prognostications. It’s (always) the end of the world as we know it, but by appearances anyway, Albert (always) feels fine.

“Who could have forecast that the US administrations (both Republican and Democrat) would go bonkers?” he wondered Thursday, commenting on fiscal profligacy in America.

He was joking. Or at least I hope so. To the extent you think America should concern itself with deficits and debt, everyone could’ve predicted successive rounds of “bonkers.” “Bonkers” is one of just two bipartisan issues inside the Beltway (the other is a hawkish approach to the bilateral relationship with the Xi regime in Beijing).

The US is a fiscal outlier, Albert suggested, referencing the visual above. As ever, Germany stands as a bastion of relative restraint. A bout with honest-to-God hyperinflation isn’t easily forgotten. The specter of the wheelbarrow cash haunts the Germans to this very day (along with a few other demons).

Albert went on. “Maybe when the Fed was throwing QE like confetti huge deficits were financeable, but those days are long gone,” he wrote. “Despite this, curiously few in the US seem scared (for now) that ‘bankruptcy’ lies ahead.”

That’s because the US can’t go bankrupt. Countries which issue hard currencies have a lot of leeway in that regard. The country which issues the reserve currency has unlimited leeway. In theory. And, frankly, by definition.

But, as we saw in Albert’s beloved UK 13 months ago, there are limits in practice. Edwards and I have different interpretations of Liz Truss’s mini-budget boondoggle, but it’s hard to escape the notion that the gilt crisis (and the near implosion of the UK LDI complex) was an example of what can happen when the market is given free rein to opine on fiscal policy unchecked by the central bank. The BoE ultimately stepped in, but not in time to save Truss who, rightly or wrongly (I think Albert would suggest wrongly) took the blame. And the fall.

Anyway, the point is that theory and practice are two different things, and when everyone believes debt and deficits matter, and the central bank is constrained by an inflation problem in its capacity to perpetuate a glorified Ponzi scheme, yields can rise sharply even for hard currency-issuing sovereigns.

Since August, that’s the story in the US: A shifting buyer base for Treasurys collided with increased supply (to fund large deficits) to push up yields via higher term premia. The situation was exacerbated by some of the worst slapstick, Beltway “bonkers” in living memory.

Mercifully, Janet Yellen and Treasury got the message. The financing estimate was lower than anticipated and more importantly, the refunding announcement came with smaller-than-expected increases to long-end sales, a tacit nod to the rapid repricing of the term premium.

Those concerned about the situation ostensibly have reason to fear a Bank of Japan exit from yield-curve control. I say “ostensibly” because explaining and forecasting Japanese demand for foreign fixed income is considerably more complicated than simply suggesting that higher JGB yields will reduce demand for Treasurys. I’d point readers to Brad Setser on that.

This week, the BoJ adjusted its YCC framework in what was widely viewed as the beginning of the end (the yen was unimpressed, but that could change). Albert, who does know a thing or two about Japanese macro, wondered if the BoJ backing away from YCC could “be the straw that breaks the back of the unsustainable US debt situation.”

“The BoJ’s recent YCC tweaks certainly reduce the attraction of US bonds, but could the BoJ go much further and halt YCC?” he asked, noting that “some who think so have focused on Japan’s core CPI having converged with core inflation elsewhere.”

Edwards quoted SocGen’s Japan economist in noting that supercore inflation (or whatever they call the ex-all food measure) in Japan will probably peak at just 2.5%, two full percentage points lower than the ex-fresh food metric that markets tend to focus on.

If that’s the case (i.e., if the ex-all food measure has seen the highs at just 2.5%), it could buy the BoJ some time, which in turn might buy the US Treasury some time “to get its fiscal house in order,” as Albert put it, on the way to quipping that he’s “100% confident” no such housecleaning will take place in D.C.

On Thursday, Reuters reported that the BoJ will in fact work towards dismantling its ultra-easy monetary policy regime in 2024, including negative rates. The plan, Reuters said, is “inherently risky” and will “require skillful execution.”


 

6 thoughts on “Albert Edwards Weighs In On BoJ, ‘Bonkers’ US Fiscal Policy

    1. Though he’s touted as affable and not a bomb-thrower, and says he wants to get things done (like avoiding shutdown), I suspect the merry band of political terrorists he now leads will soon force the Speaker to have earned the “MAGA-Mike” moniker Dems have derisively given him.

  1. Based on the chart above, looks like the debt spiked after the GFC — something about saving the global financial system — was relatively flat for a decade then spiked again in response to the Covid pandemic. With the pandemic in our rearview mirror, public debt is falling in all developed countries — and fastest here in the U.S. As boomers start to die in greater numbers, that trend should continue.

  2. Are recent events not a rebuke to the MMT crowd? I don’t hear Shelton et al getting much airtime lately.

    MMT could work if people don’t view debt as debt, as utopianism could work if people don’t view possessions as possessions.

    Anyway, the Trump tax cuts (TCJA) expire in 2025, the big drop in capital gains taxes (main culprit in 2023’s deficit increase) may not repeat, and the tail of pandemic spending should finally end.

    1. Nothing (nothing) gets on my nerves worse than this canard. For one thing, it’s Kelton. Not Shelton. And on what, exactly, are you basing your “much airtime lately” assessment, John? You’re a numbers guy, where are your numbers on Kelton airtime?

      She’s the protagonist of an award-winning documentary (https://findingmoneyfilm.com/), she had multiple sight unseen offers for another book before she even had a pitch (in other words: “here’s some money, go write another bestseller”) and she’s literally all over the place for speaking engagements and debates. This isn’t a heavy lift, John. All you have to do is follow her on Twitter and you can see how mistaken you are.

      Howard Marks said the same thing you just said in his latest memo. Namely that “you don’t hear much” from the MMT crowd anymore. Let’s face it: You made it up, just like Howard. It’s not based on any kind of quantitative assessment.

      Finally, no, “recent events” aren’t a rebuke to the MMT crowd. This is a classic (and I do mean classic) own-goal on your part, and you’re hardly alone. If you think recent events are a rebuke to Kelton, you don’t understand her writing or, more likely since you’re a smart guy, you haven’t read much of it. It also suggests you don’t actually understand federal government finance in the US. As a reminder: Kelton worked on the Senate Budget Committee. Did you?

      To be fair, though, I can see where you might’ve had trouble finding MMT “airtime” from Stephanie “Shelton,” given that whoever she is, she’s not a famous MMT advocate.

Comments are closed.

NEWSROOM crewneck & prints