That may be an amusing analogy, but reality is not amusing at all. The four largest central banks together have about $13 trillion on their balance sheets, a large portion of which they believe needs to roll off. Removing it without breaking something important will not be easy.
Least-Bad at Best
The central bankers are not unaware of this challenge. They have a conscience of sorts in the Bank of International Settlements, and it is whispering in their ears as loudly as it can. BIS economist Claudio Borio, in the institution’s annual report last month: “The end may come to resemble more closely a financial boom gone wrong, just as the latest recession showed, with a vengeance.”
The report’s monetary policy section was even more direct (emphasis mine):
Policy normalisation presents unprecedented challenges, given the current high debt levels and unusual uncertainty. A strategy of gradualism and transparency has clear benefits but is no panacea, as it may also encourage further risk-taking and slow down the build-up of policymakers’ room for manoeuvre.
That’s obvious, but it’s important that BIS said it. “Unprecedented challenges” may even understate the magnitude of what the Fed and other central banks are up against.
More from BIS:
In determining the pace of normalisation, central banks must indeed strike a delicate balance. On the one hand, there is a risk of acting too early and too rapidly. After a series of false dawns in the global economy, questions linger about the durability of this upswing. And the unprecedented period of ultra-low rates heightens uncertainty about reactions in financial markets and the economy.
On the other hand, there is a risk of acting too late and too gradually. If central banks fall behind the curve, they may at some point need to tighten more abruptly and intensively to keep the economy from overheating and inflation from overshooting. And even if inflation does not rise, keeping interest rates too low for long could raise financial stability and macroeconomic risks further down the road, as debt continues to pile up and risk-taking in financial markets gathers steam. How policymakers address these trade-offs will be critical for the prospects of a sustainable expansion.
I think that last part is too gentle. Financial-stability and macroeconomic risks are already elevated. Debt isn’t simply piling up; it’s up to the ceiling and pouring out the windows. Risk-taking in financial markets can hardly gather any more steam without blowing its top.
So yes, how policymakers address these trade-offs is indeed critical. But even if we assume our central bankers will act calmly and professionally – which perhaps we should not – the fact remains that they have no good options because they waited too long. “Least bad” is the best we can hope for, and I doubt we will get even that. The brick wall of bad decisions looms.
Getting Out of Dodge
“Get out of Dodge” was a phrase made popular by Marshall Matt Dillon on the TV show Gunsmoke in the ’60s. The phrase slipped into the youth culture and endures as a shorthand way of saying that you’d better leave town before the stuff hits the fan.
I believe the Fed is aware that they should have been raising rates earlier. They also understand the present risks. While I believe it is appropriate to raise rates slowly, I simply cannot understand why they would want to reduce their balance sheet at this late date, at the same time that they jack up rates. They could have been letting the balance sheet roll off for four years, but to do so now in conjunction with raising rates simply increases the risk of a policy error. But I don’t think they will see that as their problem.
Chair Yellen and I both believe the majority of the current governors will be gone by the second quarter of next year. It would not surprise me at all if Vice-Chair Fischer offers to resign before his term is up in June 2018. This Fed is going to raise rates a few more times, start reducing the balance sheet, and then get the hell out of Dodge
http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2017-07-1 ... turbulence