The Dog That Didn’t Bark

The dog that didn’t bark is the punchline to a famous Sherlock Holmes story, Silver Blaze, where our man Sherl deduces that the killer was a familiar presence at the murder scene because of the absence of a clue – the watchdog who barked not at all as the murderer came and went.

It’s the same thing with US fiscal policy … it’s the absence of a clue that tells me the market is extremely complacent about what is coming down the pike here.

That clue is, of course, the market narrative, and when I say that a market narrative is absent from US Fiscal Policy, I mean that there is no connection between the occasional financial media article about budget votes or fiscal policy and ANYTHING written about markets per se. This was the point of an ET Zeitgeist note I published last Friday, titled We’re All MMT’ers Now. It’s a quick read and worth your time.

In this email, I want to show you the Narrative Monitor we maintain on US Fiscal Policy so that you can understand why we think this is a big deal.

Here’s the page on the ET Professional site where you can access this Monitor data, and here’s what Rusty had to say about our results:

  • As in prior months, there is very little attention being paid to fiscal policy/budgetary topics, and practically no linguistic connection between them and financial markets narratives.
  • Cohesion and Fiat News, too, remain at floor levels.
  • We counsel some awareness of the scale of policy proposals, especially those being promoted by leading Democratic candidates. The market is paying zero attention with zero cohesion, which we observe as a complacent structure.
  • A sufficiently credible candidate with a GND/MMT-style approach could be a significant surprise to a market that could not care less about debt ceiling negotiations, government shutdowns, debt levels or budget deficits.

And here’s the narrative map itself:

What Rusty is focused on is the peripheral position of market-related narrative clusters (what’s moving the US market, why are China stocks rallying/falling, etc.) all found at the top of the narrative map, and the distance and empty space between these clusters and the center of the narrative – the record US budget deficit – as well as the distance and empty space between these clusters and the bottom of the narrative map – the fiscal policies proposed by Democratic candidates.

Up/down/left/right means nothing in these narrative maps. You can turn them 90 degrees or upside-down and nothing changes in their meaning. What is meaningful is centrality and distance and the connective links between clusters.

When Rusty and I see a narrative map like this, we immediately look at the narrative core of anything written about US fiscal policy – the record deficit shown as a bright red cluster – and how linguistically divorced those articles are from ALL other articles that show up when you do a search on “fiscal policy”. None of these peripheral articles are really about fiscal policy. They use that phrase in the article, but the article is about something else.

We also see that the articles about markets are as far apart from articles on Democratic candidate policies, like student debt forgiveness, as it is possible to be on this map. In other words, even though all of these articles share the phrase “fiscal policy” somewhere in their text, there is ZERO linguistic connection between an article about markets and an article about what a Democratic president would do about student debt. THAT is what we mean by a complacent narrative structure.

Will the market go up or down as it becomes less complacent over fiscal policies over time? Yes. And I’m not trying to be cute with that answer.

I don’t know what the market reaction will be as (or if) fiscal policies and proposals become biting (or pleasing) realities. All I know is that the market is unprepared for this. All I know is that fiscal policy is NOT in the price of financial assets today.

Yours in service to the Pack,

Ben

They’re. Not. Even. Pretending. Anymore.

I’ve met Rick Rieder and Larry Fink a couple of times, but I don’t know them. At all. Maybe they’re decent guys. Maybe they really believe in their heart of hearts that it's wise public policy for the ECB to buy equities. I truly don’t know.

But if it walks like a raccoon and talks like a raccoon . . .

 

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Get Up and Dance

That line about dancing by Chuck Prince is the perfect quote for any age and any asset class where institutions intentionally take risks they know are foolish, but risks they believe are manageable because there’s a greater fool looking to get on the dance floor after them.

The greater fool theory is the driving force behind the bid for negative-yielding debt, whether it’s European government bonds or European investment grade corporate debt . . .

 

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You Are Here, June 2019

Yes, we’re still in a zeitgeist of Central Bank Omnipotence, where deflationary shocks simply can’t take the market down for much or for long. That said, the Cohesion measure of both Trade & Tariffs and Central Bank Omnipotence is really breaking down, meaning that there is enormous narrative confusion over how the rate cut trajectory plays out … far more confusion than the 100% implied market odds of a cut would imply . . .

 

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In the Flow – Chef’s Knives

It's easy to get waaaay too precious when it comes to professional kitchens, whether we're talking about restaurants or a trading desk.

But credit default swaps are like chef knives. They're not an affectation, but a necessary tool for so many tasks. Even if you don’t cook or trade a portfolio professionally, you’ll want to own a good knife and you’ll want to know the mechanics and the rationale of a CDS trade . . .

 

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In the Flow – You Are Here, May 2019

Each month we update our five narrative Monitors and summarize the main findings from each.

The big reveal for May? There’s a tremendous amount of narrative complacency out there, particularly on Trade and Tariffs, which means this market has a long way down if the narrative focuses on negotiation failure. It’s not focusing there yet, but that’s what you want to watch for . . .

 

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In the Flow – It’s Toasted

When Donald Trump tells you that there’s no inflation, that up is down and black is white, that monetary policy … It’s toasted! … you’ve gotta believe him, right? Right?

Actually, for investment purposes, you do. When everyone knows that everyone knows that inflation is dead, that IS the common knowledge. And the common knowledge must be respected . . .

 

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In the Flow – Risk Management with ET Pro

Whether you’re a trader or a portfolio manager or a financial advisor or an allocator, ET Pro can help you identify both the inflection points and the trajectory of the market Zeitgeist – particularly the question that any long-term portfolio owner MUST get roughly right in order to succeed: are we in an inflationary or deflationary world, and how quickly (if at all) and in what ways is that world changing . . .

 

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In the Flow – The Silver Age of Central Bankers

You can make a lot of money collecting Golden Age comics. The Silver Age, though? Meh. The story arcs and narratives are a joke. The art is so-so at best. The publishers are just squeezing the installed base, and the creators are just mailing it in. They're old, but so what?

Same with the Silver Age of Central Bankers. It's hard to make money, particularly in Emerging Markets, when it's every man for himself among DM central banks . . .

 

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In the Flow – You Are Here (March 2019)

Where are we in March, 2019? We're seeing a resurgence in the narrative and policies associated with a good old fashioned beggar-thy-neighbor currency competition.

Also, here's our summary of where we think we are in each of the five evergreen macro issues of markets - inflation, central banks, trade and tariffs, US fiscal policy, and the credit cycle . . .

 

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In the Flow – Hey, Chester!

For every historical narrative there is a counter-narrative, and every time history repeats itself, the main narrative gets weaker and the counter-narrative gets stronger.

That's a problem for Jay Powell, as the counter-narrative of Central Banker Lapdog is getting stronger . . .

 

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