Category Archives: Wealth inequality

13/6/2020: What Do Money Supply Numbers Tell Us About Social Economics?


What do money supply changes tell us about social economics? A lot. Take two key measures of U.S. money supply:

  • M1, which includes funds that are readily accessible for spending, primarily by households and non-financial companies, such as currency outside the U.S. Treasury, Federal Reserve Banks, and the vaults of depository institutions; traveler's checks; demand deposits; and other checkable deposits. 

  • MZM, which is M2 less small-denomination time deposits plus institutional money funds, or in more simple terms, institutional money and funds available for investment and financial trading.
Here we go, folks:



Does this help explain why Trumpism is not an idiosyncratic phenomena? It does. But it also helps explain why the waves of social unrest and protests are also not idiosyncratic phenomena. More interesting is that this helps to explain why both of these phenomena are tightly linked to each other: one and the other are both co-caused by the same drivers. If you spend a good part of 20 years pumping money into the Wall Street while largely ignoring the Main Street, pitchforks will come out. 

The *will* bit in the sentence above is now here.

8/6/20: 30 years of Financial Markets Manipulation


Students in my course Applied Investment and Trading in TCD would be familiar with the market impact of the differential bid-ask spreads in intraday trading. For those who might have forgotten, and those who did not take my course, here is the reminder: early in the day (at and around market opening times), spreads are wide and depths of the market are thin (liquidity is low); late in the trading day (closer to market close), spreads are narrow and depths are thick (liquidity is higher). Hence, a trading order placed near market open times tends to have stronger impact by moving the securities prices more; in contrast, an equally-sized order placed near market close will have lower impact.

Now, you will also remember that, in general, investment returns arise from two sources: 
  1. Round-trip trading gains that arise from buying a security at P(1) and selling it one period later at P(2), net of costs of buy and sell orders execution; and 
  2. Mark-to-market capital gains that arise from changes in the market-quoted price for security between times P(1) and P(2+).
The long-running 'Strategy' used by some institutional investors is, therefore as follows: 
Here is the illustration of the 'Strategy' via Bruce Knuteson paper "Celebrating Three Decades of Worldwide Stock Market Manipulation", available here: https://arxiv.org/pdf/1912.01708.pdf.
  • Step 1: Accumulate a large long portfolio of assets;
  • Step 2: At the start of the day, buy some more assets dominating your portfolio at P(1) - generating larger impact of your buy orders, even if you are carrying a larger cost adverse to your trade;
  • Step 3: At the end of the day, sell at P(2) - generating lower impact from your sell orders, again carrying the cost.

On a daily basis, you generate losses in trading account, as you are paying higher costs of buy and sell orders (due to buy-sell asymmetry and intraday bid-ask spreads differences), but you are also generating positive impact of buy trades, net of sell trades, so you are triggering positive mark-to-market gains on your original portfolio at the start of the day.

Knuteson shows that, over the last 30 years, overnight returns in the markets vastly outstrip intraday returns. 



Per author, "The obvious, mechanical explanation of the highly suspicious return patterns shown in Figures 2 and 3 is someone trading in a way that pushes prices up before or at market open, thus causing the blue curve, and then trading in a way that pushes prices down between market open (not including market open) and market close (including market close), thus causing the green curve. The consistency with which this is done points to the actions of a few quantitative trading firms rather than
the uncoordinated, manual trading of millions of people."

Sounds bad? It is. Again, per Knuteson: "The tens of trillions of dollars your use of the Strategy has created out of thin air have mostly gone to the already-wealthy: 
  • Company executives and existing shareholders benefi tting directly from rising stock prices; 
  • Owners of private companies and other assets, including real estate, whose values tend to rise and fall with the stock market; and 
  • Those in the financial industry and elsewhere with opportunities to privatize the gains and socialize the losses."

These gains to capital over the last three decades have contributed directly and signi ficantly to the current level of wealth inequality in the United States and elsewhere. As a general matter, widespread mispricing leads to misallocation of capital and human effort, and widespread inequality negatively a effects our social structure and the perceived social contract."

9/5/20: Some uncomfortable facts on the U.S. wealth distribution since 1989


The distributional effects of COVID19 pandemic impact on the labour markets in the U.S. will likely result in a massive debasement of the national wealth shares of the 'Main Street' segment of American society (the 90 percent) and a further increases in the national wealth share of the top 10 percent. So much is rather clear from the data on the labour markets (e.g.: https://trueeconomics.blogspot.com/2020/05/8520-path-of-tornado-us-labour-force.html).

But this process is not a unique feature of the current 'ideology' prevailing in the White House, nor is it a unique feature of the 'Republican Party ideology'. Historically, both, the Democratic Party Presidencies and the Republican Party Presidencies since the start of the 1990s on have been responsible for the dramatic drops in the share of national net worth accruing to those outside the top 10 percent of the wealth distribution. Here is the data through 4Q 2019:



The last time, the 'Main Street America' enjoyed sustained increases in net worth was during the tenure of George H. W. Bush. Since then, there have been just one short-lived period of increase in net worth, with subsequent declines erasing fully those gains: the Dot.Com bubble during the tail end of the Clinton and the starting part of the George W. Bush administrations.

And the current Presidency is actually somewhat exceptional to the trend: under Trump Administration, American's Main Street witnessed the lowest rates of decline in their share of the national net worth of 'just' 0.13% per annum, of all post-1992 administrations. In fact, the share of the country's net worth accruing to the bottom 50 percent of Americans has risen under the Trump Presidency tenure at the fastest annualized clip since the data series started.

In simple terms, American policies of destroying the prosperity of the majority of the country's population are not reflective of the 'political divide'. Both, Democratic and Republican Presidencies have led to the effective debasement of the wealth of the American Main Street. And, in equally simple terms, the Trump Administration tenure so far has been more benign to the bottom 50 percent of the American wealth distribution than any presidency since 1989.

Like it or not, but the data is quite telling.

2/9/19: One view of Austerity


A picture is worth a thousand words, some say. So here is a picture of austerity we've had (allegedly) in recent decades:


Source: @Soberlook 

The things are savage: debt is up from ca 70% to over 110%. Cost of debt carry is down from just under 4% to under 1.75%. So where are all those fabled public investments? And who has benefited from this massive increase in debt? Virtually all - financialized (a nice euphemism for being absorbed into financial assets valuations). Austerity, after all, is just the old-fashioned transfer of resources from the broader economy to the select few, made more palatable by the superficially low cost of borrowing.

3/5/19: The Rich Get Richer when Central Banks Print Money



The Netherlands Central Bank has just published a fascinating new paper, titled "Monetary policy and the top one percent: Evidence from a century of modern economic history". Authored by Mehdi El Herradi and Aurélien Leroy, (Working Paper No. 632, De Nederlandsche Bank NV: https://www.dnb.nl/en/binaries/Working%20paper%20No.%20632_tcm47-383633.pdf), the paper "examines the distributional implications of monetary policy from a long-run perspective with data spanning a century of modern economic history in 12 advanced economies between 1920 and 2015, ...estimating the dynamic responses of the top 1% income share to a monetary policy shock." The authors "exploit the implications of the macroeconomic policy trilemma to identify exogenous variations in monetary conditions." Note: the macroeconomic policy trilemma "states that a country cannot simultaneously achieve free capital mobility, a fixed exchange rate and independent monetary policy".

Per authors, "The central idea that guided this paper’s argument is that the existing literature considers the distributional effects of monetary policy using data on inequality over a short period of time. However, inequalities tend to vary more in the medium-to-long run. We address this shortcoming by studying how changes in monetary policy stance over a century impacted the income distribution while controlling for the determinants of inequality."

They find that "loose monetary conditions strongly increase the top one percent’s income and vice versa. In fact, following an expansionary monetary policy shock, the share of national income held by the richest 1 percent increases by approximately 1 to 6 percentage points, according to estimates from the Panel VAR and Local Projections (LP). This effect is statistically significant in the medium run and economically considerable. We also demonstrate that the increase in top 1 percent’s share is arguably the result of higher asset prices. The baseline results hold under a battery of robustness checks, which (i) consider an alternative inequality measure, (ii) exclude the U.S. economy from the sample, (iii) specifically focus on the post-WWII period, (iv) remove control variables and (v) test different lag numbers. Furthermore, the regime-switching version of our model indicates that our conclusions are robust, regardless of the state of the economy."

In other words, accommodative monetary policies accommodate primarily those with significant starting wealth, and they do so via asset price inflation. Behold the summary of the last 10 years.