Macro Versus Micro Viewpoints
While many seem positively giddy about all the "green shoots" of slowing contraction sprouting up all over the place this may be a good time to compare and contrast what I call "macro" and "micro" viewpoints.
Trading types and technical analysts are good at micro views. Swift changes, wild swings, and sentiment figure into their methodology more than fundamentals and forecasting. Micro viewpoints cannot answer the questions of "why" or "what will be the end result" and they do not profess to care about either to be fair. This type of market technique is great for the nimble and those not interested in big picture analysis.
Macro analysis looks at data, long term trends, and basic rules and attempts (at least tries real hard) to formulate a viewpoint of where things will stand at some point in the future. This type of analysis can offer answers to the questions "why" and what will be the end result".
Both investment strategies are solid when done well. Both have their own peculiar issues that are drawbacks. This is not a commentary on either mode of action, just an observation.
With this in mind, one of the best long range macro views I have seen in a long time was featured over at Jesse's Cafe Americain today. The article was issued by Delta Global Advisors and I urge you to read the entire thing. Key summary excerpt:
Thus, our economy has become more addicted than ever to low interest rates. But because bank assets will now be collecting income at record low rates, when and if the Fed tries to raise rates it will only be able to do so on the margin. If Bernanke raises rates substantially to fight inflation, banks will be paying out more on deposits than they collect on their income streams. Couple that with their already distressed balances sheets and look out!
Additionally, not only do the consumers need low rates to keep their Financial Obligation Ratio low, but the Federal government also needs low rates to ensure interest rates on the skyrocketing national debt can be serviced. Our projected $1.8 trillion annual deficit stems from the belief that the government must expand its balance sheet as the consumer begins to deleverage. In fact, both the consumer and government need to deleverage for total debt relief to occur, else we're just shuffling debts around and avoiding a healthy deleveraging entirely.
In order to have viable and sustainable growth total debt levels must decrease, savings must increase and interest rates must rise. But that would require an extended period of negative GDP growth-a completely untenable position for politicians of all stripes. Ben Bernanke would like you to believe inflation will be quiescent and he can vanquish it if it ever becomes a problem. Just make sure you don't invest as though you believe him.
My only addition to it would be another example of the restrictions the FED is now shackled with in regards to credit costs. Take home prices for example. With 30 year mortgage rates at anywhere from 4-5% there may be some ability to put some kind of artificial floor under housing. How would one ever get out of such easy money policy? At a minimum the FED rate must stay at the 0% level for at least 3 years. This must remain so even in the face of Trillion dollar deficits. Looking ahead, imagine what mortgage rates of 7-9% would do to any home price recovery. It is easy to imagine the FED funds rate to stay at 0-1% for 8 or more years. This is clearly going to be an issue. Not today, not next week, but rest assured it will be an issue.
Micro Analysis Textbook Case
As a contrasting way to look at things, take the exuberance displayed today at the FED Beige Book report. Reading the headlines about all the "hope" and "signs of recovery" I was very interested to check over the text myself.
I found it to be less than reassuring, but it serves as a classic micro view case. This companion Yahoo Finance article shows just how amazing looking hard at something long enough can play tricks on what you think you are seeing:
Fed survey finds faint signs of hope
Fed survey finds scattered signs that steep plunge in economic activity starting to moderate
WASHINGTON (AP) -- The Federal Reserve said Wednesday there are some faint signs the steep plunge in economic activity that began last fall is starting to level off.
The Fed's latest survey of business conditions nationwide found five of its 12 regional banks reporting a moderation in the pace of the economic decline.
Several regions "saw signs that activity in some sectors was stabilizing at a low level ... (but) overall economic activity contracted further or remained weak," the Fed said.
The survey, known as the Beige Book, struck a slightly more positive tone than last month's report, which described an economy plunging rapidly after the financial shocks that occurred last fall.
So now 5 of 12 regional banks saw some signs of a decline in the pace of contraction in some areas in some way. Got that? Less than half of the banks polled saw some moderation of CONTRACTION in some sectors. More article:
In one sign of a possible rebound, the report said while home prices and new home construction declined in most parts of the country, the number of people shopping for homes was beginning to rise, leading to a scattered pickup in sales in a number of districts.
The Fed also said several districts observed a slowdown in the pace of manufacturing declines. The Cleveland, New York and Dallas regions reported a leveling off in the pace of declines in new orders.
More great news. More people walked through homes on tours! This is exciting! Still more to come:
The nation's job market, though, is not improving. "Labor market conditions were weak and reports of layoffs, reductions in work hours, temporary factory shutdowns, branch closures and hiring freezes remained widespread across districts," the report said.
The Fed found a silver lining in that as well, noting that the job losses have eased worries about inflation being generated by rising wage pressures.
The report also said the credit squeeze that has occurred as banks suffered mounting loan losses did not show any significant improvement. Demand for business loans remains weak.
Trust me the FED would dearly love to see any INFLATION right now on the heels of a highly deflationary PPI number. At least out of work folks can rest easy that inflation will not eat up their savings that are needed to be spent on the economy. Final section:
Still, private economists said the new Fed survey reinforced a slightly more upbeat view on the economy.
"This is good evidence that activity is becoming less bad across the country," said Jennifer Lee, an economist at BMO Capital Markets. "Granted, things are still bad, but less so."
The new survey was based on information each of the regional banks collected in March and early April. It will be used when Fed policymakers next meet to consider their stance on interest rates and other monetary issues on April 28-29.
The Fed is widely expected to keep a key interest rate at a record low of near zero while continuing to supply massive amounts of money to the banking system in the hopes of combatting the worst financial crisis to hit the country in seven decades.
So things are bad, but less bad. Not to worry, the FED is on the case and in a affirmation with the macro piece highlighted above, we see there is no way for the FED out of this mess for a long time to come.
In a micro view, the rate if decline is going lower. By implication, this is taken to mean that things will stop declining and then, of course, resume an upward trajectory. While I am not much of a mathematician, I do seem to remember a theorem about what is known as approaching zero asymptotically. Reduced to ultra basics, as one approaches 0 or 100 on a given scale, you continue to reduce the rate of change and approach 0 or 100 ever more closely but never quite get there.
In a graph format, assume the top right quadrant is the rate of change of any parameter on its way to zero:
Note that after a steep decline, the rate of change towards zero flattens out and slows to a crawl towards zero.
I am not saying that manufacturing, consumer spending, or home sales are going to zero. That is not my point. What I am trying to show is that while the rate of decline may be (or may not be, ask the other 7 regional banks of the Beige Book) declining, that rate may decline for quite some time but just get "less bad". Something to keep in mind.
I am sure I will get torn apart by the more mathematically inclined out there, but that is what the comments section is for!
Have a good night.