Has Quantitative Easing Worked? A Two-Part Blog Series Perspective (Part II)

Solomon-(2)Brad Solomon, Junior Investment Analyst

Part two in a two-part blog series discussing quantitative easing measures on a domestic and global scale. Part one published last week.

Transmission to Main Street has been dubious.

The Fed’s FRB/US model, which is the workhorse behind quantifying QE’s transmission mechanisms into the general economy, forecasted a 0.2 percentage-point drop in unemployment over a 2-year time horizon as a result of a $500 billion LSAP, according to then-Fed governor Stein in 2012. Given that the cumulative scale of QE in the U.S. totaled around $4 trillion over about 4.4 years, excluding intermittent periods between buying sprees, the FRB/US model would then forecast a reduction in unemployment of 1.6 percentage points. (This assumes that there are no marginally diminishing returns to QE dollars.) Building in a “lag” of six months, the actual U.S. unemployment rate fell by 4.0 percentage points during this period and currently hovers near 5%, right above what is often pegged as the natural rate of unemployment. To what extent that reduction is due to QE, though, is very difficult to answer—there is no “control subject” in real-world experiments. The next-best-option is the event study that looks at variables prior to and following some stimulus, although this risks blending the effect with some other variable. While unemployment has fallen near its natural rate, anecdotal evidence speaks to widespread underemployment

Other metrics look either ambiguous or decidedly impressive. Across the U.S., U.K., Eurozone, and Japan, industrial production growth has been significantly more volatile than it was pre-recession; unemployment has fallen, with exception of the Eurozone where it has marched further upward after a double-dip recession in 2013; household saving as a percent of disposable income has come down substantially. Lack of healthy inflation has proven to be the fly in the ointment. Nearly 30 countries have explicitly adopted inflation targeting (around half of those in the last 15 years), but the majority continue to be plagued by nagging disinflation or outright deflation. Consider the poster child Japan who pioneered QE over the 2001-2006 period in its commitment to purchase $3-6 trillion in Japanese government bonds (JGBs) per month until core CPI became “stably above zero.” While the Bank of Japan wrapped up with the program in March 2006 after witnessing year-over-year core CPI in Japan clock in just above zero for three consecutive months, this was more of a mathematical win. Headline inflation over the period picked up solely due to a rapid rise in the price of crude oil, which arguably has little connection to monetary policy. This is not to say that some commentators have not already called for an indefinite deflationary environment, or that QE’s effects on the money supply don’t appear ambiguous.

Getting back to using the U.S. as an example, income growth has not followed the drop in unemployment, and inequality has persisted. Annualized growth rates since 2010 have been near zero and well below their long-term averages, and the lack of growth is particularly pronounced in the lower income quintiles.

Solomon_QE_4

On another front, record-low mortgage rates are undoubtedly a product of QE but have not translated into pre-2008 home buying, even in the presence of rising FICO scores and real home prices that are hovering around their 10-year trailing average. In fairness to QE, though, there simply seems to be a lack of a relationship between the cost of borrowing money to buy a home, and the demand for borrowing that money, as evidenced by the chart below.

Solomon_QE_5

QE’s efficacy seems to have varied case-by-case, and there is a growing consensus that there are diminishing marginal returns to QE.

Of this last point, Japan and the ECB should take note. While the Bank of Japan refrained from expanding its QE program at its meeting this past Friday above the current $670 billion p.a. rate, such expansion remains on the table for its November and December meetings. A similar decision faces the ECB in December, and the rhetoric of ECB President Mario Draghi has been mostly dovish in tone. (The annual rate of asset purchases by the ECB currently stands at about $816 billion.) While both banks will ultimately adhere to their mandates in trying to combat deflation and negative export growth, perhaps expectations should be set low for how effective further QE will be in meeting those mandates.

Proponents of real business cycle theory would not be surprised at much of the above—that is, that aggressive monetary policy has failed to override a general shift in appetites for home-buying, tepid supply-glut disinflation, reduced appetite by banks to lend, and the preference by businesses towards doing nothing productive with bond issuance besides repurchasing their own equity. These “exogenous” factors may overpower the stimulatory nature of QE, or the problem may be one of model specification. (Getting back to the home sales/mortgage rate example, QE may do its job of lowering borrowing rates, but this may not ultimately stoke home-buying appetites, which is a failure of the assumed indirect transmission mechanism that underlies QE’s founding.) Whatever the case, while it has helped solve short-run liquidity problems by injecting cash into the financial system, QE has proven sub-optimal in terms of being a cure-all to the woe of general economic lethargy.

Further reading

  1. Fawley, Brett & Christopher Neely. “Four Stories of Quantitative Easing.” (2013)
  2. Krishnamurthy, Arvind & Annette Vissing-Jorgensen. “The Ins and Outs of LSAPs.” (2013)
  3. Klyuev, Vladimir et. al. “Unconventional Choices for Unconventional Times.” (2009)
  4. McTeer, Robert. “Why Quantitative Easing May Not Work the Same Way in Europe as in the U.S.” (2015)
  5. Raab, Carolin et. al. “Large-Scale Asset Purchases by Central Banks II: Empirical Evidence.” (2015)
  6. Schuman, Michael. “Does QE Work? Ask Japan.” (2010)
  7. Stein, Jeremy. “Evaluating Large-Scale Asset Purchases.” (2012)
  8. Williams, John. “Monetary Policy at the Zero Lower Bound.” (2014)
  9. Williamson, Stephen D. “Current Federal Reserve Policy Under the Lens of Economic History.” (2015)
  10. Yardeni, Edward & Mali Quintana. “Global Economic Briefing: Central Bank Balance Sheets.” (2015)

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor.

Monthly Market And Economic Outlook: September 2015

Amy MagnottaAmy Magnotta, CFASenior Investment Manager, Brinker Capital

Global growth concerns, specifically the impact of a slowdown in China, and the anticipation of Fed tightening beginning in the fall prompted a spike in volatility and a sell-off in risk assets in August. The decline occurred despite decent U.S. economic data. U.S. equity markets held up slightly better than the rest of the developed world while emerging markets fared worse. U.S. Treasury yields were unchanged on the month, but credit spreads widened in response to the risk-off environment. Crude oil prices hit another low in late August, also weighing on global equity and credit markets.

The S&P 500 Index ended the month down -6%, but experienced a peak to trough decline of -12%. Prior to that it had been more than 900 trading days since we last experienced a 10% correction. All sectors were negative on the month, with healthcare and consumer discretionary, which had been leading, experiencing the largest declines. Small caps experienced a -6% decline as well, while mid caps held up slightly better. Growth meaningfully lagged value in small caps, but style performance was less differentiated in the large cap space.

International developed equity markets lagged U.S. markets in August, despite a slightly weaker U.S. dollar. Japan edged out European markets. After leading through the first seven months of the year, international developed equity markets are now behind the S&P 500 U.S. equity markets year to date. Emerging market equities have experienced a steep decline, down more than -15% so far in the third quarter, amid the volatility in China and continued economic woes in Brazil and broad currency weakness.

August wasn’t a typical risk-off period as longer-term U.S. Treasury yields were unchanged on the month and yields on the short end of the curve rose slightly. The Barclays Aggregate Index declined -0.14% in August. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities were flat for the month, but spread widening in both investment grade and high yield led to negative returns for corporate credit, with lower quality credits experiencing the largest declines. Municipal bonds were slightly ahead of taxable bonds in August and lead year to date.

Our outlook remains biased in favor of the positives, but recognizing risks remain. The global macro backdrop keeps us positive on risk assets over the intermediate-term, even as we move through the second half of the business cycle. A number of factors should support the economy and markets over the intermediate term.

  • Global monetary policy accommodation: Despite the Federal Reserve heading toward monetary policy normalization, their approach will be cautious and data dependent. The ECB and the Bank of Japan have both executed bold easing measures in an attempt to support their economies.
  • U.S. growth stable and inflation tame: U.S. GDP growth rebounded in the second quarter and consensus expectations are for 2.5% growth moving forward. Employment growth is solid, with an average monthly gain of 243,000 jobs during the past year. While wages are showing beginning signs of acceleration, reported inflation measures and inflation expectations remain below the Fed’s target.
  • U.S. companies remain in solid shape: M&A activity has picked up and companies also are putting cash to work through capex and hiring. Earnings growth outside of the energy sector is positive, and margins have been resilient. However, weakness due to low commodity prices could begin to spread to sectors.
  • Less uncertainty in Washington: After serving as a major uncertainty over the last few years, Washington has done little damage so far this year; however, Congress will still need to address the debt ceiling before the fall.

However, risks facing the economy and markets remain:

  • Fed tightening: The Fed has set the stage to commence rate hikes in the coming months. Both the timing of the first rate increase, and the subsequent path of rates is uncertain, which could lead to increased market volatility.
  • Slower global growth: Economic growth outside the U.S. is decidedly weaker. It remains to be seen whether central bank policies can spur sustainable growth in Europe and Japan. A significant slowdown in China is a concern, along with slower growth in other emerging economics like Brazil.
  • Geopolitical risks could cause short-term volatility.

While the recent equity market drop is cause for concern, we view the move as more of a correction than the start of a bear market. The worst equity market declines are associated with recessions, which are preceded by substantial central bank tightening or accelerating inflation. As described above, we don’t see these conditions being met yet today. The trend of the macro data in the U.S. is still positive, and a significant slowdown in China, which will certainly weigh on global growth, is not likely enough to tip the U.S. economy into contraction. Even if the Fed begins tightening monetary policy in September, the pace will be measured as inflation is still below target. However, we would not be surprised if market volatility remains elevated and we re-tested the August 25 low as history provides many examples of that occurrence. Good retests of the bottom tend to occur with less emotion and less volume as the weak buyers have already been washed out.

As a result of this view that we’re still in a correction period and not a bear market, we are seeking out opportunities created by the increased volatility. We expect volatility to remain elevated as investors position for an environment without Fed liquidity. However, such an environment creates greater dislocations across and within asset classes that we can take advantage of as active managers.

Source: Brinker Capital. Views expressed are for informational purposes only. Holdings subject to change. Not all asset classes referenced in this material may be represented in your portfolio. All investments involve risk including loss of principal. Fixed income investments are subject to interest rate and credit risk. Foreign securities involve additional risks, including foreign currency changes, political risks, foreign taxes, and different methods of accounting and financial reporting.

 

International Insights Podcast – Implications of Major Central Bank Moves in Switzerland and India

Stuart Quint, Investment Insights PodcastStuart P. Quint, CFA, Senior Investment Manager and International Strategist

This audio podcast was recorded January 15, 2015:

Stuart’s International Insights Podcast focuses on small markets potentially creating big implications for global markets.

Highlights of the discussion include:

Switzerland:

  • Central bank cut interest rates and removed the link of the Swiss franc to the euro
  • Background discussion and what it means for global currencies
  • Losers: carry trades, mortgage holders in Eastern Europe, Austrian banks

India:

  • Central bank cut interest rates modestly, but still sent a major global signal
  • Falling inflation and government reform both key for future cuts
  • Major emerging market able to stimulate growth while others are doing the opposite

Click here to listen to the full audio recording

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are not intended as investment advice or recommendation. For informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change. Brinker Capital, a Registered Investment Advisor.

 

Housing Recovery: Slow but Sustainable

Sheila BonitzSheila Bonitz, Vice President of Investment Management,
Brinker Capital

As we enter into the busiest selling season of the housing market (March – June), we are seeing signs of improvement within the housing industry as a whole. While many believe that the housing market is sustainable, it has not been a “V-shaped” recovery. Instead, it may be a long, slow road as the effects of the 2008 housing crisis are still fresh in everyone’s mind.

Positive signs for the housing industry:

U.S. Consumer Confidence

Source: FactSet

  • Mortgage delinquency rates are trending down, which is a positive for the economy.
  • Home prices are firming and increasing in some areas. The S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index increased +13% over the last 12 months.
  • Overall consumer confidence is increasing, and potential homebuyers are feeling better about buying a home.
  • Pent-up demand–we are well below the average of household formation since the 2008 crisis. Kids are living on the couch versus moving out.

What is different with this recovery?
Developers are much more strategic than what they were in 2006/2007. They are making purposeful, strategic decisions and are concentrating. Developers are focused on the A-market where the focus is on move-up buyers that are less sensitive to price and who have acceptable credit scores. Within the A-market, developers have flexibility with the price of the home. Slightly higher prices help to drive steady volume, which helps control inventory levels and provides steady work for the construction crews. The slightly higher home prices also give a lift to the developers’ operating margins.

Credit is still tight. The average FICO score for approved mortgage loans is 737, well above the 690 average we saw in the 2004-2007 period.

Potential homebuyers enter the housing market cautiously. With home prices on the rise again, they have concerns that their newly-purchased home value may fall sharply. 2008 clearly showed the world that there is no guarantee of generating a profit on the investment of a home. That being said, with interest rates at historic lows and with the cost of buying more advantageous than renting, we will see more people tiptoe their way back into the housing market.

Things to watch:

Mortgage Delinquency Rates

Source: FactSet

  • Does credit remain tight? Currently credit is tight. Wells Fargo* announced on 2/26/14 that they dropped their FICO minimum on FHA Loans to 600; Will other lenders follow Wells Fargo’s lead in lowering FICO minimums? If they do, we may see an increase in potential homebuyers.
  • Mortgage delinquency rates. Do they continue to trend down? If so, banks may be willing to lend.
  • Interest rate increase – gradual or sharp? The Housing market can absorb gradual interest rate increases, however; if we see another sharp increase like we did last summer, it will definitely have a negative impact on the housing market as a sharp increase in interest rates creates concern among potential homebuyers.
  • Monthly jobs report is trending up. As employment increases, the perceived pent-up demand will gradually bring more homebuyers to the market.
  • Supply. Housing supply has been low. Will there be an increase in supply for the spring selling season? Will it be met with increased demand to keep prices up?

Source: “Wells Fargo Lowers Credit Scores for FHA Loans,” National Mortgage News (Feb. 6, 2014)

The views expressed are those of Brinker Capital and are for informational purposes only. Holdings are subject to change.

Why Care About Housing Reform

QuintStuart Quint, Sr. Investment Manager & International Strategist, Brinker Capital

Housing is a major component of the U.S. economy and the largest source of wealth for many Americans. Despite the recent rebound, home prices in the U.S. have declined a cumulative -16% since 2006. That masks significant declines in Sunbelt markets hit by the housing bubble collapse (FL -37%, AZ -32%, CA -26%, NV -45%).
(Freddie Mac. September 2013)

Roughly 50% of the stock of housing in the U.S. is financed by mortgage debt. Consequently, the availability and cost of mortgage debt has a direct relationship on the value of housing. Indeed, the 2008 financial crisis exacerbated the downturn in housing as the financial system had sharply cut mortgage credit. The downturn in home prices also damaged consumer confidence for the two-thirds of Americans who owned their home. Many homeowners saw their savings reduced and consequently cut back on their consumption. Additionally, the housing downturn left nearly one out of five Americans underwater on their mortgage debt, (i.e. the resale value of their home in the current market would be less than the mortgage debt they owed). This resulted in higher credit losses for banks, which in turn reduced credit availability across the board.

One reason for sub-par economic growth following the 2008 financial crisis stems from the sub-par recovery in housing. Housing accounts for one out of every six dollars of economic output. (National Association of Home Builders)

9.27.13_QuintAdditionally, the housing downturn has impacted the job market. Approximately 2.5 million lost jobs between 2006 and 2013 were lost because of the housing downturn. Residential construction accounts for 1.5 million jobs including the financial sector and real estate. Housing-related employment amounts to as many as one out of every twelve jobs in the U.S. economy. (Bureau of Labor Statistics. September 6 and The Bipartisan Policy Center)

The issue of how to finance the largest asset for many Americans is of critical importance to future growth prospects for the U.S. economy.

Housing Recovery Will Be Slow-going

Amy Magnotta, CFA, Brinker Capital

There has been much talk about a recovery in the housing market.  Sales have been decent, albeit volatile.  Prices have inched higher.  Inventories are down.  Homebuilder confidence has improved.  The Fed is certainly trying to boost the housing market with their latest mortgage-backed security purchase program.  Affordability is at record levels as the 30-year mortgage rate has fallen to 3.4% (bankrate.com).  Refinance activity has surged in response but purchase activity hasn’t yet followed.

While there are undoubtedly positive signs in the housing market, the chart below from David Rosenberg at Gluskin Sheff puts the recent increase in housing starts into perspective.  While starts have increased meaningfully over the last two years, they remain very depressed when you look at historical levels.

The demand for housing should slowly improve as employment picks up and the pace of household formation increase.  However, despite the recent decline in inventories, the supply side will pick up as well.  Potential sellers may be sitting on the sidelines waiting for firmer prices.  There are also a significant number of delinquent and foreclosed properties – so-called shadow inventory – in the pipeline.

We don’t expect a sharp turnaround in housing starts or sales, but any improvement will be an incremental positive to growth after acting as a detractor from growth for some time.  Stabilization in housing prices will also serve as a boost to consumer confidence. For this reason we recently added the improvement in the housing market as one of our positive tailwinds for the U.S. economy, acknowledging this is a long-term view and will likely be played out over many quarters, not months.