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What a US Debt Default Could Bring

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A US debt default could trigger a nightmare scenario that many economists have been warning about. Eventually this shit pile of debt will have to be dealt with but is this the moment ? One thing is for sure, this can easily be avoided but as usual politicians like to play Russian roulette.

The following are 12 very ominous warnings about what a U.S. debt default would mean for the global economy…

#1Gerald Epstein, a professor of economics at the University of Massachusetts Amherst: “If the US does default, that will make the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy look like a cakewalk”

#2Tim Bitsberger, a former Treasury official under President George W. Bush: “If we miss an interest payment, that would blow Lehman out of the water”

#3Peter Tchir, founder of New York-based TF Market Advisors: “Once the system starts to break down related to settlement and payments, then liquidity disappears, as we saw after Lehman”

#4Bill Isaac, chairman of Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp: “We can’t even imagine all the things that might happen, just like Henry Paulson couldn’t imagine all the bad things that might happen if he let Lehman go down”

#5Jim Grant, founder of Grant’s Interest Rate Observer: “Financial markets are all confidence-based. If that confidence is shaken, you have disaster.”

#6Richard Bove, VP of research at Rafferty Capital Markets: “If they seriously default on the debt, what we’re really talking about is a depression”

#7Chinese vice finance minister Zhu Guangyao: “The U.S. is clearly aware of China’s concerns about the financial stalemate [in Washington] and China’s request for the US to ensure the safety of Chinese investments.”

#8The U.S. Treasury Department: “A default would be unprecedented and has the potential to be catastrophic: credit markets could freeze, the value of the dollar could plummet, U.S. interest rates could skyrocket, the negative spillovers could reverberate around the world, and there might be a financial crisis and recession that could echo the events of 2008 or worse”

#9Goldman Sachs: “We estimate that the fiscal pull-back would amount to 9pc of GDP. If this were allowed to occur, it could lead to a rapid downturn in economic activity if not reversed quickly”

#10Simon Johnson, former chief economist for the IMF: “It would be insane to default, but it’s no longer a zero-percent probability”

#11Warren Buffett about the potential of a debt default: “It should be like nuclear bombs, basically too horrible to use”

#12Bloomberg: “Anyone who remembers the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. little more than five years ago knows what a global financial disaster is. A U.S. government default, just weeks away if Congress fails to raise the debt ceiling as it now threatens to do, will be an economic calamity like none the world has ever seen.”

Source: theeconomiccollapseblog.com

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China’s Credit Bubble Unprecedented

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Whereas China may have helped to save the world in 2008, its ability to help global GDP has slowly been strangled by its own massive debt levels. Corporate and private sector debt has grown out of all proportions severely limiting China’s ability to grow its way out of its debt problems.  It’s not just Western banks we need worry about.

China’s shadow banking system is out of control and under mounting stress as borrowers struggle to roll over short-term debts, Fitch Ratings has warned. Fitch warned that wealth products worth $2 trillion of lending are in reality a “hidden second balance sheet” for banks, allowing them to circumvent loan curbs and dodge efforts by regulators to halt the excesses.

The agency said the scale of credit was so extreme that the country would find it very hard to grow its way out of the excesses as in past episodes, implying tougher times ahead.

“The credit-driven growth model is clearly falling apart. This could feed into a massive over-capacity problem, and potentially into a Japanese-style deflation,” said Charlene Chu, the agency’s senior director in Beijing.

“There is no transparency in the shadow banking system, and systemic risk is rising. We have no idea who the borrowers are, who the lenders are, and what the quality of assets is, and this undermines signalling,” she told The Daily Telegraph.

While the non-performing loan rate of the banks may look benign at just 1pc, this has become irrelevant as trusts, wealth-management funds, offshore vehicles and other forms of irregular lending make up over half of all new credit. “It means nothing if you can off-load any bad asset you want. A lot of the banking exposure to property is not booked as property,” she said.

Concerns are rising after a string of upsets in Quingdao, Ordos, Jilin and elsewhere, in so-called trust products, a $1.4 trillion segment of the shadow banking system.

Bank Everbright defaulted on an interbank loan 10 days ago amid wild spikes in short-term “Shibor” borrowing rates, a sign that liquidity has suddenly dried up. “Typically stress starts in the periphery and moves to the core, and that is what we are already seeing with defaults in trust products,” she said.

Fitch warned that wealth products worth $2 trillion of lending are in reality a “hidden second balance sheet” for banks, allowing them to circumvent loan curbs and dodge efforts by regulators to halt the excesses.

This niche is the epicentre of risk. Half the loans must be rolled over every three months, and another 25pc in less than six months. This has echoes of Northern Rock, Lehman Brothers and others that came to grief in the West on short-term liabilities when the wholesale capital markets froze.

Mrs Chu said the banks had been forced to park over $3 trillion in reserves at the central bank, giving them a “massive savings account that can be drawn down” in a crisis, but this may not be enough to avert trouble given the sheer scale of the lending boom.

Overall credit has jumped from $9 trillion to $23 trillion since the Lehman crisis.

“They have replicated the entire US commercial banking system in five years,” she said.

The ratio of credit to GDP has jumped by 75 percentage points to 200pc of GDP, compared to roughly 40 points in the US over five years leading up to the subprime bubble, or in Japan before the Nikkei bubble burst in 1990. “This is beyond anything we have ever seen before in a large economy. We don’t know how this will play out. The next six months will be crucial,” she said.

The agency downgraded China‘s long-term currency rating to AA- debt in April but still thinks the government can handle any banking crisis, however bad. “The Chinese state has a lot of firepower. It is very able and very willing to support the banking sector. The real question is what this means for growth, and therefore for social and political risk,” said Mrs Chu.

“There is no way they can grow out of their asset problems as they did in the past. We think this will be very different from the banking crisis in the late 1990s. With credit at 200pc of GDP, the numerator is growing twice as fast as the denominator. You can’t grow out of that.”

The authorities have been trying to manage a soft-landing, deploying loan curbs and a high reserve ratio requirement (RRR) for banks to halt property speculation. The home price to income ratio has reached 16 to 18 in many cities, shutting workers out of the market. Shadow banking has plugged the gap for much of the last two years.

However, a new problem has emerged as the economic efficiency of credit collapses. The extra GDP growth generated by each extra yuan of loans has dropped from 0.85 to 0.15 over the last four years, a sign of exhaustion.

Wei Yao from Societe Generale says the debt service ratio of Chinese companies has reached 30pc of GDP – the typical threshold for financial crises — and many will not be able to pay interest or repay principal. She warned that the country could be on the verge of a “Minsky Moment”, when the debt pyramid collapses under its own weight. “The debt snowball is getting bigger and bigger, without contributing to real activity,” she said.

The latest twist is sudden stress in the overnight lending markets. “We believe the series of policy tightening measures in the past three months have reached critical mass, such that deleveraging in the banking sector is happening. Liquidity tightening can be very damaging to a highly leveraged economy,” said Zhiwei Zhang from Nomura.

“There is room to cut interest rates and the reserve ratio in the second half,” wrote a front-page editorial today in China Securities Journal on Friday. The article is the first sign that the authorities are preparing to change tack, shifting to a looser stance after a drizzle of bad data over recent weeks.

The journal said total credit in China’s financial system may be as high as 221pc of GDP, jumping almost eightfold over the last decade, and warned that companies will have to fork out $1 trillion in interest payments alone this year. “Chinese corporate debt burdens are much higher than those of other economies. Much of the liquidity is being used to repay debt and not to finance output,” it said.

It also flagged worries over an exodus of hot money once the US Federal Reserve starts tightening. “China will face large-scale capital outflows if there is an exit from quantitative easing and the dollar strengthens,” it wrote.

The journal said foreign withdrawals from Chinese equity funds were the highest since early 2008 in the week up to June 5, and withdrawals from Hong Kong funds were the most in a decade.

Source: Irish Independent

Margin Debt over 2.25% of GDP Signals Stock Market Crash

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Another signal that the stock market is over inflated and heading for a major correction is margin debt greater than 2.25% of GDP. Levels in April already show that this level has been hit. Previous stock market crashes have in common high margin debt greater than 2.25%. Will we be lucky this time around, unlikely.

What do 1929, 2000 and 2007 all have in common?  Those were all years in which we saw a dramatic spike in margin debt.  In all three instances, investors became highly leveraged in order to “take advantage” of a soaring stock market.  But of course we all know what happened each time.  The spike in margin debt was rapidly followed by a horrifying stock market crash.  Well guess what?  It is happening again.  In April (the last month we have a number for), margin debt rose to an all-time high of more than 384 billion dollars.  The previous high was 381 billion dollars which occurred back in July 2007.  Margin debt is about 29 percent higher than it was a year ago, and the S&P 500 has risen by more than 20 percent since last fall.  The stock market just continues to rise even though the underlying economic fundamentals continue to get worse.  So should we be alarmed?  Is the stock market bubble going to burst at some point?  Well, if history is any indication we are in big trouble.  In the past, whenever margin debt has gone over 2.25% of GDP the stock market has crashed.  That certainly does not mean that the market is going to crash this week, but it is a major red flag. The funny thing is that the fact that investors are so highly leveraged is being seen as a positive thing by many in the financial world.  Some believe that a high level of margin debt is a sign that “investor confidence” is high and that the rally will continue. 

“The rising level of debt is seen as a measure of investor confidence, as investors are more willing to take out debt against investments when shares are rising and they have more value in their portfolios to borrow against. The latest rise has been fueled by low interest rates and a 15% year-to-date stock-market rally.”

Others, however, consider the spike in margin debt to be a very ominous sign.  Margin debt has now risen to about 2.4 percent of GDP, and as the New York Times recently pointed out, whenever we have gotten this high before a market crash has always followed…

“The first time in recent decades that total margin debt exceeded 2.25 percent of G.D.P. came at the end of 1999, amid the technology stock bubble. Margin debt fell after that bubble burst, but began to rise again during the housing boom — when anecdotal evidence said some investors were using their investments to secure loans that went for down payments on homes. That boom in margin loans also ended badly.”

Posted below is a chart of the performance of the S&P 500 over the last several decades.  After looking at this chart, compare it to the margin debt charts that the New York Times recently published that you can find right here.  There is a very strong correlation between these charts.  You can find some more charts that directly compare the level of margin debt and the performance of the S&P 500 right here.  Every time margin debt has soared to a dramatic new high in the past, a stock market crash and a recession have always followed.  Will we escape a similar fate this time?

S&P 500

What makes all of this even more alarming is the fact that a number of things that we have not seen happen in the U.S. economy since 2009 are starting to happen again.  For much more on this, please see my previous article entitled “12 Clear Signals That The U.S. Economy Is About To Really Slow Down“.

At some point the stock market will catch up with the economy.  When that happens, it will probably happen very rapidly and a lot of people will lose a lot of money.

And there are certainly a lot of prominent voices out there that are warning about what is coming.  For example, the following is what renowned investor Alan M. Newman had to say about the current state of the market earlier this year

If anything has changed yet in 2013, we certainly do not see it. Despite the early post-fiscal cliff rally, this is the same beast we rode to the 2007 highs for the Dow Industrials. The U.S. stock market is over leveraged, overpriced and has been commandeered by mechanical forces to such an extent that all holding periods are now affected by more risk than at any time in history.”

Source: theeconomiccollapseblog.com

Exports Keep Ireland Alive For Now

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Ireland maybe on the verge of an EU deal to push out debt payments for 12 to 15 years but it has been its exports that have managed to keep the nation afloat. In fact exports make up to 106% of GDP which has enabled it help trade its way out of the crisis in spite of the harsh austerity that has been imposed.

Ireland will export as much as India this year, and more than Brazil, fruit of an industrial policy dating back to the early 1990s that has made the country a hub for global pharma, software, medical equipment, and financial services. It will rack up a very German current account surplus above 4pc of GDP.

Exports make up 106pc of GDP, compared to 35pc for Portugal, 30pc for Spain 30pc, 29pc for Italy, and 21pc for Greece. Ireland has a much higher trade gearing than Club Med peers, and that is what has kept the country afloat despite a 26pc collapse in domestic demand. Growth was 1.5pc in 2011 and 0.9pc in 2012, better than the EU average.

The export story is by now well-known. The global drug giants almost all have plants in Ireland, employing 44,000 people and producing half the country’s merchandise exports, though this may be losing its edge. The country is facing a “Patent Cliff” as a clutch of drugs – such as Pfizer’s statin pill Lipitor – come off patent in the US. It is the reason why Irish exports slipped 15pc in December.

Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Twitter, and a host of household names have regional headquarters in Dublin, whether drawn by a corporation tax of 12.5pc or by the critical mass of a high-tech skills. How much value is added to the Irish economy is an open question. Google rotates some 45pc of its global revenues through Ireland under transfer pricing schemes.

Even so, Ireland is clearly a different animal from the Greco-Latins. It never had a seriously misaligned currency within EMU. It had a misaligned monetary policy that set off a credit bubble. Real interests set in Frankfurt averaged minus 1pc from 1998 to 2007 (compared to plus 7pc in the early 1990s). As Irish eurosceptics foretold, the effects were ruinous.

The country has since deflated the froth. The gap in unit labour costs with the EMU-core has been closed again, at least on paper. “We have cut costs right through the economy with an internal devaluation of 15pc or 16pc,” said Mr Noonan.

One can quibble with the claims. Nearly all the gain in labour costs has been in the non-tradeable public sector – nurses, policemen, teachers – where wages have been slashed 14pc, with another 5.5pc to come. Productivity levels have been flattered by the annihilation of the building industry. “Private wages have declined only modestly,” says the IMF in its latest report.

Yet the point remains that Spain has not begun to see this level of deflationary shock. Were it to try with such a closed economy, it would tip into free-fall, push the jobless rate above 30pc, and cause the debt trajectory to spin out of control. As for Italy, its unit labour costs rose as fast as Germany’s last year. Its deflation lies ahead.

Ireland not out of the woods yet!

Club Med can take no comfort from Ireland’s success, but is even Ireland itself out of the woods? The budget deficit is still 8pc of GDP five years into the ordeal, and public debt is already nearing the limits of viability at 121pc of GDP this year.

Dublin has pencilled in a 3pc deficit by 2015, but dissidents say 6pc is more likely. The IMF warns that a “stagnation” scenario of 0.5pc growth a year into the middle of the decade would cause the debt ratio to spiral up to 146pc by 2021.

That is a serious risk as Europe persists in botching macro-economic policy, and US austerity threatens the fragile world expansion later this year.

Investment has collapsed to 10pc of GDP.

This is the lowest in recorded Irish history and the currently the lowest in the EU. “If this does not recover over the next couple of years, I’ll be worried”, said Rossa White from the National Treasury Management Agency.

Indeed, it is the crux of the matter. Spending has been slashed through the muscle and into the bone. This presumably is what Laszlo Andor, the EU employment commissioner, was talking about last week when he decried a slash-and-burn policy in the name of competitiveness that is tipping the crisis economies into a “downward spiral” and making it even harder to cut control debts. Are his colleagues in the Berlayment listening to him?

A mass exodus of 40,000 to 50,000 each year to the four corners of the Irish Diaspora have kept unemployment down to 14.1pc, but 60pc of those left on the rolls have been out of work for over year — the highest rate in Europe — and that is where the “hysteresis” effects of lasting damage bites hardest. It steals from growth from the future by degrading work skills.

Troika has done more damage to Ireland than the English ever did in 800 years.

Irish trade union chief David Begg was speaking with poetic licence last week when he accused the Troika of doing more damage to Ireland than the British Empire ever did in eight hundred years, snapping that the English had at least left some “beautiful Georgian buildings.” Needless to say, he has not forgotten the Wexford massacre and the potato famine, and nor have we at this newspaper. Yet he made his point.

“When we meet the Troika, we tell them that austerity is not working, and they tell us that it is. It is a dialogue of the deaf,” he said.

Mr Begg said he had come to realise that EMU is constructed in such a way that the “entire burden of cost adjustment” falls on workers if there is macro-shock. He is right. An internal devaluation is achieved by forcing unemployment to such excruciating levels that it breaks the back of labour resistance to pay cuts. It is the polar opposite of a currency devaluation that spreads the pain. Note that Iceland’s unemployment is just 5.4pc today, and Britain’s is 7.7pc.

“Such a callous disregard for distributional justice – which we have witnessed in this country over the last five years – is a fatal flaw,” he said.

“For much of its history, European integration has proceeded on the basis of a ‘Permissive Consensus’. European citizens thought it was a good thing, or at least did no harm. I doubt that view is still current. From what I hear in the circles in which I move, today’s labour movement is disaffected from the European project,” he said.

“What will happen when people eventually realise that they are trapped in a spiral of deflation and debt. We may reach the tipping point,” he said.

Europe’s labour movement is the dog that has not barked in this long crisis. Bark it will.

Source: Irish Independent

Peter Schiff: Its Going To Hit The Fan In Obamas 2nd Term

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Peter Schiff’s interview with Varney on Fox.

  • Gold is consolidating in preparation for another big move up.
  • People are getting complacent and think things are getting better, but that’s only because governments are printing money. People will soon start to see the inflation.
  • Japan will start to see high rises in inflation.
  • Inflation is the new monetary policy for CBs.
  • Markets are currently blindsided and won’t see inflation until it gets much worse.
  • CPI numbers are phoney and designed to hide inflation.
  • Bond bubble will eventually burst and that money will chase real goods.
  • Would be shocked if there wasn’t an explosive move up in gold in next 2-3 years.
  • It will hit the fan in Obamas 2nd term  – Currency crisis & Sovereign debt crisis.

What The Presidents Said About US National Debt

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Talk is cheap.

Bill Gross: Fort Knox Gold A Fairy Tale

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Bill Gross (PIMCO) has penned an article entitled “Money for nothin’ writing checks for free”. In it he criticizes the Fed for creating money out of thin air using the fairy tale of gold in Fort Knox as a backup.

Long term creation of debt has serious consequences through inflation. In other words the Governments may have found a way of creating debt for free but ultimately the people pay the price.

It was Milton Friedman, not Ben Bernanke, who first made reference to dropping money from helicopters in order to prevent deflation. Bernanke’s now famous “helicopter speech” in 2002, however, was no less enthusiastically supportive of the concept. In it, he boldly previewed the almost unimaginable policy solutions that would follow the black swan financial meltdown in 2008: policy rates at zero for an extended period of time; expanding the menu of assets that the Fed buys beyond Treasuries; and of course quantitative easing purchases of an almost unlimited amount should they be needed. These weren’t Bernanke innovations – nor was the term QE. Many of them had been applied by policy authorities in the late 1930s and ‘40s as well as Japan in recent years. Yet the then Fed Governor’s rather blatant support of monetary policy to come should have been a signal to investors that he would be willing to pilot a helicopter should the takeoff be necessary. “Like gold,” he said, “U.S. dollars have value only to the extent that they are strictly limited in supply. But the U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost.

 
Mr. Bernanke never provided additional clarity as to what he meant by “no cost.” Perhaps he was referring to zero-bound interest rates, although at the time in 2002, 10-year Treasuries were at 4%. Or perhaps he knew something that American citizens, their political representatives, and almost all investors still don’t know: that quantitative easing – the purchase of Treasury and Agency mortgage obligations from the private sector – IS essentially costless in a number of ways. That might strike almost all of us as rather incredible – writing checks for free – but that in effect is what a central bank does. Yet if ordinary citizens and corporations can’t overdraft their accounts without criminal liability, how can the Fed or the European Central Bank or any central bank get away with printing “electronic money” and distributing it via helicopter flyovers in the trillions and trillions of dollars?
 
Well, the answer is sort of complicated but then it’s sort of simple: They just make it up. When the Fed now writes $85 billion of checks to buy Treasuries and mortgages every month, they really have nothing in the “bank” to back them. Supposedly they own a few billion dollars of “gold certificates” that represent a fairy-tale claim on Ft. Knox’s secret stash, but there’s essentially nothing there but trust. When a primary dealer such as J.P. Morgan or Bank of America sells its Treasuries to the Fed, it gets a “credit” in its account with the Fed, known as “reserves.” It can spend those reserves for something else, but then another bank gets a credit for its reserves and so on and so on. The Fed has told its member banks “Trust me, we will always honor your reserves,” and so the banks do, and corporations and ordinary citizens trust the banks, and “the beat goes on,” as Sonny and Cher sang. $54 trillion of credit in the U.S. financial system based upon trusting a central bank with nothing in the vault to back it up. Amazing!
Basically the Governments fund their debt for free.
But the story doesn’t end here. What I have just described is a rather routine textbook explanation of how central and fractional reserve banking works its productive yet potentially destructive magic. What Governor Bernanke may have been referring to with his “essentially free” comment was the fact that the Fed and other central banks such as the Bank of England (BOE) actually rebate the interest they earn on the Treasuries and Gilts that they buy. They give the interest back to the government, and in so doing, the Treasury issues debt for free. Theoretically it’s the profits of the Fed that are returned to the Treasury, but the profits are the interest on the $2.5 trillion worth of Treasuries and mortgages that they have purchased from the market. The current annual remit amounts to nearly $100 billion, an amount that permits the Treasury to reduce its deficit by a like amount. When the Fed buys $1 trillion worth of Treasuries and mortgages annually, as it is now doing, it effectively is financing 80% of the deficit for free.
 

The BOE and other central banks work in a similar fashion. British Chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to our Treasury Secretary) George Osborne wrote a letter to Mervyn King, Governor of the BOE (equivalent to our Fed Chairman) in November. “Transferring the net income from the APF [Asset Purchase Facility – Britain’s QE] will allow the Government to manage its cash more efficiently, and should lead to debt interest savings to central government in the short-term.” Savings indeed! The Exchequer issues gilts, the BOE’s QE program buys them and then remits the interest back to the Exchequer. As shown in Chart 1, the world’s six largest central banks have collectively issued six trillion dollars’ worth of checks since the beginning of 2009 in order to stem private sector delevering. Treasury credit is being backed with central bank credit with the interest then remitted to its issuer. Should interest rates rise and losses accrue to the Fed’s portfolio, they record it as an accounting liability owed to the Treasury, which need never be paid back. This is about as good as it can get folks. Money for nothing. Debt for free.

Investors and ordinary citizens might wonder then, why the fuss over the fiscal cliff and the increasing amount of debt/GDP that current deficits portend? Why the austerity push in the U.K., and why the possibly exaggerated concern by U.S. Republicans over spending and entitlements? If a country can issue debt, have its central bank buy it, and then return the interest, what’s to worry? Alfred E. Neuman for President (or House Speaker!).
So whats the problem of issuing debt for free?
The future price tag of printing six trillion dollars’ worth of checks comes in the form of inflation and devaluation of currencies either relative to each other, or to commodities in less limitless supply such as oil or gold. To date, central banks have been willing to accept that cost – nay – have even encouraged it. The Fed is now comfortable with 2.5% inflation for at least 1–2 years and the Bank of Japan seems willing to up their targeted objective to something above as opposed to below ground zero. But in the process, zero-bound yields and their QE check writing may have distorted market prices, and in the process the flow as well as the existing stock of credit. Capital vs. labor; bonds/stocks vs. cash; lenders vs. borrowers; surplus vs. deficit nations; rich vs. the poor: these are the secular anomalies and mismatches perpetuated by unlimited check writing that now threaten future stability.

Ben Bernanke has publically acknowledged these growing disparities. “We are quite aware,” he said in November 2011, “that very low interest rates, particularly for a protracted period, do have costs for a lot of people… I think the response is, though, that there is a greater good here, which is the health and recovery of the U.S. economy… I mean, ultimately, if you want to earn money on your investments, you have to invest in an economy which is growing.”

That growth now is to be measured each and every employment Friday via an unemployment rate thermostat set at 6.5%. We at PIMCO would not argue with that objective. Yet we would caution, as Bernanke himself has cautioned, that there are negative consequences and that when central banks enter the cave of quantitative easing and “essentially costless” electronic printing of money, there may be dragons.

Investment conclusions
Investors should be alert to the longterm inflationary thrust of such check writing. While they are not likely to breathe fire in 2013, the inflationary dragons lurk in the “out” years towards which long-term bond yields are measured. You should avoid them and confine your maturities and bond durations to short/intermediate targets supported by Fed policies.

Source: PIMCO

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