This is turning into another unloved bull market, we look at why, and wonder if Chou En Lai was right about the French revolution. Lets start with inflation.

I chanced upon Paul Krugman’s The Return of Depression Economics, written in 2008. Krugman is very much an establishment man, Keynesian to his socks and seeing the great failure of late 20th Century economics being the sudden lack of demand. He has other work and more recent books, but I will focus on this one.

IMF Remedies

He has particular vitriol for the way the IMF repeatedly used austerity in its many forms, as the antidote to all and any of the chaos created by a deflating bubble. So, taxes up, spending down and crush demand to stabilise a currency, to avoid the extremes of bank collapses.

In Krugman’s world, it was more important to regulate banks, and it seems hedge funds, thereby stopping the sources of instability in the credit markets, and to then prop up demand.

Well, the echoes are there, current policy remains both IMF applauded austerity to save the currency, which is just what Hunt inflicted on the UK last year, and a desperate search for ways to pump up demand, to stop stagflation. Much as Biden is doing with the US and the amusingly called Inflation Reduction Act, and indeed the MAGA type, neo-Trumpian, protectionism now evident in the CHIPS Act. The rush to global rearmament should be just as effective.

All in the end versions of Keynesian demand creation – digging holes in highways to refill.

Echoes of Old Bubbles

Krugman is not indifferent to the bubbles this creates in the US stock market and US housing prices but would seem, like Senator Warren, to suggest whatever the question, more bank (and shadow bank) regulation is the answer.

It is odd as you piece together many establishment views, how this policy of ‘create bubbles, and then carefully regulate their deflation’, but never cut demand too hard, is now the undeclared reality of mainstream economic policy at Western Central Banks.

Krugman is blistering on some old tropes, the Schumpeterian theory of creative destruction gets short shrift, which still lingers in the financial press in complaints about ‘zombie’ companies (which I have always found weird). Likewise, that global development is all about rigging resource prices, which haunts the walls of a million coffee shops and a fair few churches and is also (sadly) tosh.

So, he is not all bad.

The New Bernanke Put

Nor when you understand how deep his influence is, does this financial market seem so strange, because the Central Banks hope inflation is external (weather, politics, madmen fighting etc) so this will “mean revert” in time. Alongside this sits a very wary take on destabilising currencies by interest rate differentials. The old guard real world elements break through occasionally (and have supporters, like the splendidly lucid El-Erian) especially with double figure inflation on the rampage, but they are not heeded for long.

Seen like that, while the stock market hates bubbles and inflation, it can’t shake the belief that in some form the “Bernanke Put” is still in play.

In which case ‘higher for longer’ on interest rates is a paper tiger, as rates don’t cause recessions, regulatory failure and hot money flows do. In that world buying an overpriced but liquid US market and buying the dollar looks, to many, like low risk. Not to us.

Inflation control?

And yes, as we have long argued, this won’t control inflation, but it seems who cares? We don’t need to fear the stock and housing bubbles deflating abruptly, as the Central Banks won’t allow that. Nor should we worry about rates, as Central Banks can’t let them rise much more, without jeopardising their over-indebted host governments.

So yes, old hands may hate a rising market into an economic  slow-down, but they are it seems, just part of history.

What then to buy? Arms companies are not significant post ESG, the China trade is (we feel falsely) boosting already elevated resource prices, and travel companies are getting plenty of attention. Meanwhile areas of bountiful state subsidy (an ever-increasing list) are happy too. However, that is a fairly unattractive list. And are valuations in those areas still reasonable?

I can see why some investors just think playing around with Tesla options is the best bet (we don’t).

Then as Farce, Modern Imperial Europe

Chou En Lai when asked about the French Revolution was of the view (it is said) that it was “too early to tell”. I have been reading Michael Broers’ brilliant Europe Under Napoleon, an extended love letter to the EU, in favour of rational technocratic administration, with a deep-seated fear of the sans-culottes.

This seems to highlight so much of the French desire to see the EU as the Napoleonic Empire, without the bad bits. The terror of the rabble, the urban bias, the fetishism of one law, the desire to paint any opposition to EU autocracy as unspeakable – it all rather gels.

Well perhaps the parallels go too far, but in looking at the bizarre actions of the EU over Ulster it is tempting to see more than just childish spite. The resources thrown at half a dozen sleepy border crossings (reportedly 20% of all external border EU customs checks last year) made little rational sense. Even if not that bad, it was overkill.

So, I can half see why the DUP feel that getting rid of bureaucratic bullying is just appeasement, but looking at the litany of inconvenience to be scrapped, this does still feel like a win for all sides.

But as with markets, I suspect all the fundamental problems still remain.