Well, Chart 2 confirms the evidence. Over the past three years, our net national savings rate has been negative, and lower than it has ever been in modern history. The last time this occurred was in the Great Depression.
Aside from a little squiggle back close to 0% over the last year or so, there is no evidence that investment is being incented by quantitative easing. All of the money being created and freed up is elevating asset prices, but those prices are not causing corporations to invest in future production. Admittedly, the chart shows this downward spiral has been underway for decades, but financial repression and quantitative easing were supposed to be the extraordinary monetary policies that kick-started the real economy in the other direction. They have not. We have been using the lower interest rates, the $9,975 of free money, to consume as opposed to invest.
To be fair, Ben Bernanke has been operating with one arm behind his back and has been calling for cooperative stimulation from the fiscal side of this government. He has received little response – not from Democrats, not from Republicans. They have all focused on re-electing themselves as opposed to constructively plotting a way forward. That is why Election Day seems like such a futile gesture to me. Red/Blue; Republican/Democrat. What kind of choice do we have when we pull the lever? If monetary policy has shown its impotent limits, can we now trust Washington to constructively reverse a downward slide in our net national savings rate? I suspect not. I doubt if either Obama, Romney, or many of their economic advisors even know what the definition is, let alone how to reverse it.
Investors should recognize that asset and currency prices ultimately rest on the ability of a real economy to grow. If growth cannot be boosted by monetary policy, and fiscal policy is in the hands of a plutocracy more concerned about immediate profits as opposed to long-term vitality, then no Genie or Flavor Flav with a magic clock can make a difference. If, therefore, real economic growth is stunted in the United States and globally, then portfolio strategies should acknowledge bite-sized future returns and the growing risk that the negative consequences of misguided monetary and fiscal policy might lead to disruptive financial markets at some future point. The approaching fiscal cliff might be the first of a series of future disruptions. Although PIMCO expects a middle ground fiscal compromise from Washington, when that is combined with the fading influence of QE monetary policies, it leads only temporarily to 2% real growth in the U.S. at best – growth that is clearly not “Old Normal.” We are in a “New Normal” world where the negative effects of private sector deleveraging are only being weakly addressed by monetary and fiscal authorities. If so, then Treasury yields should stay low and my money market fund should continue to read “.01%.” The “cult” of equity – or better yet the cult of “total return” – for both bonds and stocks – is over, if that definition presumes a resumption of historical patterns anywhere close to double digits. The era of financial repression continues.
I must explain these things to my Genie, I fear. Despite his New Age appearance, his forecasts seem to be a bit old-fashioned and out-of-date.