This week is sizing up to be a bit of a yawner in the forex market. I predict long periods of thumb-twiddling in between rounds of QE3 predictions. On Friday, Ben Bernanke will give a speech in Jackson Hole, Wyoming in which he will use a lot of big words, yet say nothing. This will not be a repeat of 2010, where he used the annual symposium of world economic leaders as a platform to announce QE2. Instead, he will wait until the next FOMC meeting, scheduled for September 12-13.
ECB President Mario Draghi has decided to skip Jackson Hole this year. This is all for the best, as there is nothing more he can say at this point. We already know his view, which is that the ECB will do “whatever it takes.” But, quite frankly, his hands are tied until Europe returns from holiday to approve (or not approve) an aggressive bond-buying program by the central bank. The euro will stay in its holding pattern until at least mid-September, when the ECB, EC and IMF (the “troika”) is expected to release its report on Greece. Also around that time, a German court is expected to rule on the constitutionality of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), a move that would pave the way for an ECB bond-buying program.
Perhaps we should just ring the bell now and start the Labor Day weekend early. The markets probably do not need to reconvene until mid-September.
By then, I believe the central bankers will be ready to act, as we are seeing more signs of a coming global recession. One key piece of evidence came last week from mining giant BHP Billiton, which said it would be scaling back on $50 billion worth of mining projects, including its highly-touted Olympic Dam mining project. This is huge. Olympic was trumpeted as the future of the company. It was also the pet project of BHP CEO Marius Kloppers. Guys like him do not do an abrupt about-face on such a project unless the evidence is incontrovertible. For more on the slowdown in Asia, read the recent JLN Forex column on China.
So, yes; we will see action, likely sooner than later. Central banks will do whatever it takes to perpetuate easy money policies, just as developed nations will try to inject additional fiscal stimulus. There will be no fiscal cliff-diving – a policy I advocated in last week’s column, “Geronimo!!!” Rather, the problems associated with the bursting of the global credit bubble will be pushed further down the road. The can will be kicked until it is someone else’s problem (or someone else’s fault).
My concern is that, when today’s problems are pushed off until tomorrow, what will we do with tomorrow’s problems?
We may find out sooner than we think. Here in the U.S., we talk a lot about the coming demographic showdown, when the retirement and medical needs of the aging baby-boomers overwhelm the system. Or, we witness the alternative scenario where, due to higher life expectancy and inadequate retirement preparedness, baby-boomers choose to stay in the work force, creating a bottleneck in the demographic employment flow. According to a recent study, this is happening already. Most of the job gains since the Great Recession have gone to workers over age 55. The unemployment rate among new graduates is double that of workers over 55. A substantial number of our young grads who are employed are not working in their chosen field, but rather are working as wait staff, baristas or nannies.
Though we think it is bad in the U.S., the demographic problem is even more acute overseas. Japan’s population is older than that of the U.S. China, with its one-child policy, will one day feel a demographic pinch. In fact, a recent FT commentary expects the “demographic tsunami” to hit the area between 2015 and 2020. By then, a majority of U.S. baby-boomers will be in their 70s.
No amount of money-printing or stimulus can change demographic reality.
Such is the downside of can-kicking.