Michael Pento, President, Pento Portfolio Strategies
There’s been a lot of attention being paid to high frequency trading (HFT) as of late. The question has been raised as to whether or not HFT rigs markets. It is true that HFT adds nothing to GDP and is simply a legalized form of high-tech front running. However, the real problem with the stock market—and the economy as a whole—isn’t the fact that HFT skims pennies off transactions from institutional traders; but rather that the Fed has rigged interest rates and asset prices to the extent that investors can no longer distinguish reality from fiction.
It is well known that the Fed has already purchased trillions of dollars’ worth of MBS and Treasuries since the start of the Great Recession. It also is no secret that the Fed Funds Rate has been pegged at zero percent since the end of 2008. Yet, somehow, this is not considered rigging the market. Nor do these conditions elicit the proper scrutiny of most investors. But instead, are nearly universally embraced as the perfunctory and necessary undertakings by a prudent central bank.
Market participants are ignoring the fact that the cost of money and the supply of credit and savings--the most important signals in an economy—should be set by the free market and not manipulated by the Fed. But investors are now taking their ignorance a step further. Since investors refuse to acknowledge the central bank’s unprecedented influence in monetary affairs, it then follows that they have also deluded themselves into believing the Fed has not been the primary driver behind stock market gains.
Wall Street is fond of claiming that earnings growth has been relatively healthy throughout this “recovery” from the Great Recession and that earnings are the “mother’s milk of stocks.” Earnings growth comes from consumer spending because consumption drives the U.S. economy. In fact, seventy percent of U.S. GDP is derived from consumption. Therefore, it is logical to conclude that this was the reason behind our government and central bank’s efforts to boost consumption following the credit crisis.
Forty nine percent of Americans receive transfer payments and yet only 47% of U.S. citizens pay Federal income taxes. The Fed has monetized $3.5 trillion worth of government obligations since 2008. It did this in order to allow the Federal government to run trillion dollar deficits for years on end without debt service payments spiraling out of control.
It is abundantly clear that the Fed rigged lower debt service costs for both consumers and the government in order to artificially boost consumption. In addition, keeping interest rates at record low levels directly re-inflated bond, real estate and equity market bubbles. This further boosted money supply growth and fueled greater consumption.
Since real wages have been falling, our government has sought to boost consumer spending by propping up asset prices and lowering interest expenses, rather than seeking a viable market-based economy.
Therefore, it is completely silly to believe our stock market is not rigged. It is. But much more so by the government than it is by the “Flash Boys”. The markets, and the economy as a whole, are rigged in favor of the wealthy and those involved with financial services, but against the middle class and those that embrace free markets.
To believe otherwise is to claim that interest rate levels have no relationship to; debt levels, money supply growth, asset prices, equity market values or economic activity. Only a fool would then maintain that the Fed has not rigged markets. And it has done so for the direct purpose of artificially boosting consumption, which has led to an increase in GDP and earnings growth. This has in turn created a synergistic effect and spurred stock prices to an even more unsustainable level following the initial boost received from the Federal Reserve.
Once the Fed stops buying banks’ assets (the very essence of QE) these institutions will have no need to replace them. Therefore, the money supply will shrink as asset prices tumble. It is then logical to conclude that the end of the Fed’s manipulation of interest rates and money supply will lead to a collapse of this phony consumption-driven economy, as it also takes the stock market along for the ride down.