Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Nearing The Pause That Will Not Refresh? by Danielle Park

Each business cycle, central banks optimistically hike rates with the stated goal of slowing the economy enough to prevent it from overheating and not so much as to trigger a recession. They have failed in this goal 12 of the last 13 tightening cycles, with a recession and stock market swoon following all but one in the mid-1990s.

After the last two recessions in 2001 and 2008, the US Fed left rates successively lower for longer which enabled debt and financial leverage to balloon to record levels. This has made the economy and financial system less stable and more vulnerable to steeper correction phases than historical average. We are now facing the third 'correction' phase of the past 20 years, and it is set up to be the most extreme yet, just as the largest population of asset owners are tumbling into the over age 65 category in record numbers. Baby boomers were gifted with fortuitous timing through most of their lives; this next phase will be a harsh payback period for many.

With the global economy already slowing and stock and corporate debt markets already swooning, it is likely that the US Fed will once more signal a 'surprise' pause in its rate-hiking plans in 2019. In Canada, with slumping home prices, stocks and oil already spreading financial distress, it is likely that the Bank of Canada will pause in its tightening cycle even sooner than the US Fed. But this will be no magic fix.

As shown in the above the chart of Fed tightening and easing cycles since 1998 from my partner Cory Venable, by the time central banks pause, a recession is already likely to be imminent and the stock market already in the throes of a deep bear market. By the time policymakers move to ease once more, financial damage will already be far and wide.


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