Central Banks Buying Stocks Have Rigged US Stock Market Beyond Recovery

Another sliver of proof comes from the Bank of Finland, which states that it started buying stocks in 2014, still a recent innovation and that it plans to ramp that up:

“When yields started to get really low and closer to zero in 2014, we decided to start equity investments,” said Jarno Ilves, head of investments at the Bank of Finland, who said he plans to increase his allocation to stocks. (Zero Hedge)

Oh, a couple of other parts of that job description:

Interfaces with market participants to obtain context for asset price movements…. Relates developments in financial markets to issues pertaining to financial stability.… Plans and executes transactions in foreign exchange or fixed income markets on behalf of the U.S. monetary authorities, foreign central banks, and other customers.

Would those “market participants” be the central banks that are the “Qualified Participants” in the CME’s incentive program, and would the “asset price movements” be intentionally targeted asset price movements, and not just observations of natural market movements?

Just asking.

Follow the money to see where central-bank rigging of sticks all ends up

The precarious part of this equation is what it shows of the Law of Diminishing returns that I keep harping about as an economic fundamental that cannot be averted even by central banks. The further we have gone into the “recovery,” the greater the amount of global stimulus that has been needed to keep the recovery afloat and the more direct and broad the intervention has had to become. There is no global reduction of stimulus so far. The only thing that has shifted is where the stimulus is coming from.

I have always stated that the recovery program is completely unsustainable and that all signs of life end as soon as the artificial life support is removed. The patient has been dead since 2008. We have gone from the Fed and/or US Treasury buying stocks to save a few key companies (an innovation at the time that was worrisome to many) to numerous central banks buying up large swaths of the market. The stock intervention has become greater, not smaller, because of the Law of Diminishing returns.

You have to ask yourself, as I did about Carmageddon, “What is the end game here?” What happens when central banks need to unwind from these positions and, so, start to flood the market with these stocks. I think the answer is they can no more do that than they can bring their recovery to a successful conclusion (hence the continued massive stimulus a decade after it all began, even as they talk of unwinding). It is absurd that anyone thinks the Fed is unwinding successfully when everyone else has been maintaining or increasing stimulus and when much of that flows to the US.

To see where this all goes, we have only to look at Japan where, again, the Law of Diminishing Returns erodes endlessly at their goals. Japan entered the game of rigging its stock market back in the 1990s, and it is still as desperately stuck in this liquidity trap as ever.

There is no end game. A recent poll of currency reserve managers at reserve banks showed that 80% of the 18 central banks polled plan to increase their investment in stocks. That was almost double the number of those interested in buying corporate bonds.

These people are flying by the seats of their pants to go where no man (or one Yellen) has ever gone before. They are trying to figure their way out as they go, just like Japan, which finds itself endlessly pitched back into new and greater rounds of QE every time it tries to taper. As a result, the Bank of Japan has now become one of the top-five owners in eighty-one companies on the Japan Nikkei 225 index and is close to being the number-one owner in fifty of those companies. (Effectively nationalizing those stocks.)

The Bank of Japan (BOJ) has been purchasing assets including exchange-traded funds (ETFs) and thus, indirectly, company stocks…. From a policy perspective, efforts to weaken Japan’s currency by lowering interest rates to negative levels has not worked and has attracted criticism, particularly from financial institutions. It seems that now the emphasis will be on weakening the yen as well as propping up stock prices. In the parlance of the gambling community, the BOJ has become the biggest “whale” in the market, holding a large share of stocks listed on the Tokyo Stock Market. Therefore, many investors have become increasingly focused not on company fundamentals but on the BOJ’s daily purchases…. It’s estimated that the BOJ now owns about 60% of Japan’s domestic ETFs and it’s expected the BOJ could continue purchasing more ETFs through 2017…. Market bulls are happy with the BOJ purchases, but opponents say the central bank is artificially inflating valuations and ironically discouraging companies from becoming more efficient. Interestingly, Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average is actually down more than 8% year-to-date [diminishing returns, anyone?], although one might argue its fate could have been worse without central-bank buying…. Of course, the BOJ’s program is not unique. The Bank of England has a corporate debt purchase program worth about US$13 billion, and the European Central Bank has a similar program. (Franklin Templeton Investments)

The Bank of Japan is already buying ETFs at an annual pace of 300 billion yen ($2.4 billion), in addition to its existing annual purchase program worth about 3 trillion yen.

The Swiss, Israeli and Hong Kong central banks have also been or are small-scale investors in stock markets, but more aggressive buying may now be called for….

This could mean ramping up purchases of Japanese stocks to 10 percent of the outstanding total, or about 50 trillion yen, from around 0.5 percent currently.

Such a move would contribute to “pushing up equity prices….

“If the BOJ expands its ETF purchasing plan in June or July, then that could be the trigger for the ECB to look more closely at this,” said JP Morgan’s Panigirtzoglou.

Purchasing stocks would also go some way to supporting bank valuations, which have been hammered in recent months by the low and negative yields and a dismal first quarter trading environment. (Reuters)

The hope of central banks is to create a self-sustaining illusion, wherein people will see a market that appears healthy and growing and then jump in and take off where the central bank leaves off. As we can see from Japan, the results are not that positive, and the illusion certainly has never become self-sustaining. It is more of delusion. No central bank has navigated its way out of this so far. China, for having done the same thing, is probably worse off than Japan, truth be known beyond the always-deceptive cover of its double bookkeeping system.

You see, at the end of the day, this is not just stock manipulation; it is CYA time. The Fed’s recovery is a failure because it was never sustainable from its onset. It was a bankrupt idea. For the recovery to be called a success, GDP would have to have improved, and it has done nothing but doggedly follow a downward path for years. CLEARLY NOT A RECOVERY! GDP growth well that is now under 2% can hardly be called “recovery.” The end game was supposed to be that a thriving economy would be able to absorb the Fed’s very gradual unwinding, but that vital economy never emerged.

The central banks have painted themselves into a corner. By their own designs, they get no interest off all the bonds they hold. They cannot sell them without substantially raising the interest on the national debts of the nations they are obligated by charter to serve. (The ECB now owns 40% of Europe’s national debts.)  So, they buy stocks to maintain the illusion of recovery and to have someplace to put the money they keep on their balance sheets. Then they cannot sell those without crashing their own stock markets. So, the game continues to spiral upward in terms of the aggregate of CB investments … as seen in Japan and in China and now the US. Some call it the liquidity trap.

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