Jerry Webman, chief economist at OppenheimerFunds, says that using the Fed's words to time the first rate hike has become a fool's errand.» Read More
It might be hard to imagine President Ronald Reagan agreeing with President Barack Obama's take on wealth inequality. But Reagan's first director of the Office of Management and Budget, David Stockman, says that the disparity in household wealth is a major problem that ought to be addressed. He just has very different ideas about how to deal with it.
Stockman's specific concern is gains in the stock market, which he say have contributed massively to wealth inequality. Since he maintains that stocks have been propped up by the actions of the Federal Reserve, he has a problem with the money that Americans have made from rising stocks.
Profits off of stocks are "totally ill-gotten gains," Stockman said Thursday on CNBC's "Futures Now."
"This is a massive windfall to the 5 percent or 1 percent" wealthiest American households, he said. "This prosperity we've had in the top 5 percent—and that's where most of the consumption growth has been—is entirely a function of artificially ballooning stock prices and other risk assets."
Meanwhile, "the 'Main Street' households in America are not doing well. Their incomes are not growing."
Even though the dollar has surged and the U.S. economy is outperforming the rest of the world, investors need to be concerned, Societe Generale head of U.S. macro strategy Lawrence McDonald.
"The dollar is creating tremendous systematic risk," McDonald said Wednesday on CNBC's "Futures Now."
One issue is created from crude oil, given that crude oil prices are inversely related to U.S. dollars, since as the value of the dollar increases, it takes fewer of those dollar to buy a barrel of oil.
"As the dollar goes higher, it drives oil lower. Russia is now junk [in its credit rating], but it's not just Russia. If you look at the corporate debt market, and the number of companies that are tied to Russia's fate, you just have a situation where there's tremendous systemic risk that's tied to oil."
On Wednesday, crude oil closed at a fresh six-year low, which appeared to weigh heavily on equities.
It may not feel like it, but stocks are actually more expensive than they've been since 2005. Still, most investors say that shouldn't be a huge cause for concern.
The S&P 500's price-to-earnings ratio, which compares the price of the S&P to analyst projections of what S&P companies will earn over the next 12 months, has risen to 16.6, according to FactSet. Not only is that above historical norms, but it is the highest that metric has been since March of 2005.
What's unusual is that stocks have gotten more expensive in terms of valuation, even as the market itself has been relatively stagnant: The S&P has logged only mild losses on the year through Friday's close.
Read MorePower play: S&P targets 2,200
That's because earnings estimates have fallen dramatically of late. In fact, from the end of the year until now, analysts have decreased their estimate for what S&P 500 companies will earn over the next year by nearly $3, or 2.2 percent. So even as the price/earnings (P/E) equation's numerator has stagnated, earnings have fallen.
Unsurprisingly, much of the decline in earnings expectations comes from energy sector analysts, who are still reeling over oil's 50 percent plunge from its 2014 highs. From the end of the year, earnings per share estimates for the energy sector have swooned 27 percent.
Since share prices haven't fallen nearly as much, the overall impact is that the P/E for the energy sector has risen to 22.4, FactSet senior earnings analyst John Butters finds—the highest for any sector in the S&P.
The cuts have indeed come fast and furious. For instance, when Credit Suisse downgraded Exxon Mobil on Friday morning, it slashed its 2015 EPS estimate for the oil giant from $5.04 to $2.82.
Still, the stock is down just 13 percent over the past six months, which gives a flavor of the dynamic in the energy sector that has sent valuations way higher.
Investors often think of stimulative central bank policies as boosters for gold. But the European Central Bank's newly announced 60 billion euro ($67 billion) per month quantitative easing policy could be a bit different, traders argue.
The reason the Federal Reserve's late QE program was thought to be helpful for gold was that it would hurt the value of the U.S. dollar by creating inflation. It would consequently take more dollars to buy gold; in other words prices would go higher.
The massive inflation predicted by some gold lovers never did arrive, but it is true that the U.S. enjoys higher inflation than much of the world, with core inflation measures running between 1.5 percent and 2 percent.
Similar thinking could lead to gold buying on the ECB QE program—after all, more money is being created and pumped into the system, which should stoke inflation. However, the money created is not dollars, but euros. Consequently, the dollar has risen sharply against the euro, which should hurt gold, all other things equal.
And in fact, while gold initially rose to a five-month high shortly after the European QE announcement, it has subsequently retraced much of those gains, as the U.S. dollar has continued on its path higher.
The euro plunged to an 11-year low on Thursday, after the European Central Bank announced that it would begin a 60-euro monthly asset purchasing program. But it could still have a ways to fall.
Brown Brothers Harriman global head of currency strategy Marc Chandler predicts that the euro, which fell as low as 1.1362 on Thursday after trading near 1.4000 in May, is heading below 1.0. That widely watched level is the point at which it will just take a single U.S. dollar to purchase a euro, a condition known in the currency markets as "parity."
"The divergence between the ECB, the [Bank of Japan] easing policy more, and the Federal Reserve—even if you don't fully accept my view that the Fed raises rates in the middle of this year, no matter how you slice it, the Federal Reserve will raise rates well before the ECB and the BOJ—I think that this pushes the euro well below parity next year," he said Thursday on CNBC's "Futures Now."
"I think about where the euro fell to back in the early part of 2000, 2001, we were down below 0.9. And I think that that's where we should be thinking that we're headed again," Chandler added.
In fact, Chandler maintains that even though the dollar has already made a huge move, "we're still in the early stages of a multiyear dollar bull market."
For those familiar with the work of Marc Faber, it shouldn't be surprising that his best trade idea is on the short side. But what is interesting is precisely what Faber is looking to short.
Eventually, the editor of the Gloom, Boom & Doom Report continued, "The central banks will be exposed for all the fraud they commit."
Faber holds that the actions of the central banks have enriched the already-wealthy at the expensive of the middle class and poor, because their stimulative policies have boosted financial assets and not the real economy.
Additionally, Faber said that central bank actions are highly unpredictable—a contention that gained more heft in the prior week, when the Swiss National Bank shocked the world and rocked currencies by removing the Swiss franc peg against the euro.
"You never know—that's the problem with central banks," he said. "They're professors who never worked a day in their lives."
Suddenly, gold is getting its groove back.
After two straight years of losses, gold is off to its best start to year since 2008. And, according to one well known analyst, 2015 could have gold bugs smiling.
In an interview with CNBC.com's Futures Now, Sterne Agee's precious metals and mining analyst Michael Dudas said that gold should continue to benefit from central banks' efforts to devalue their currencies. Gold prices rose more than 2 percent Thursday to a four-month high after the Swiss National Bank shocked the world and said it would abandon its euro currency peg. The precious metal is now up more than 6 percent year to date.
Read MoreGold rallies to a 4-month high
Crude oil just can't catch a break.
After rising more than 6 percent on the day, the battered commodity promptly sold off, falling 9 percent in five hours. And IHS Vice Chairman Daniel Yergin says it could get even worse for crude.
"There's still this downward pressure that's there. And the kind of thing that's hovering over it, and it affected things today, is the continuing concerns about economic prospects," Yergin said Thursday on CNBC's "Futures Now."
He says that OPEC's decision not to reduce output targets was partially aimed at stimulating demand, but the global economy hasn't quite cooperated.
India, Indonesia and Mexico are all looking to reduce oil subsidies, which would raise prices there, Yergin pointed out. Meanwhile, Europe's economy is in dire shape. And "Chinese oil demand is so [strongly] linked to construction and infrastructure, and that's weakening."
Copper has plunged to a 5 1/2-year low, in the latest example of slowing global growth hammering industrial commodities.
In the overnight session, copper fell 7 percent to the lowest level since July 2009 before recovering somewhat. Still, the red metal is down a stunning 9 percent this week.
When it comes to the speedy down move, in which copper futures fell 6.7 percent from 8:20 p.m. ET to 9 on Tuesday night, few ready explanations suggest themselves.
"There was no particular trigger behind the fall, but we should not underestimate the power of Chinese fund money to roil the markets," wrote metals analyst Edward Meir of INTL FCStone. He adds that bearish put options on copper have been active, and "presumably, some fund players may have sold more copper in order to tip those options into the money."
"All in all, [there's] quite a lot of firepower lined up on the short side," he surmised.
It sounds like the setup to a corny joke: Why is raising the federal funds rate target like wearing shorts in Minnesota?
But that is precisely the heuristic device used by the colorful and oft-dissenting Minneapolis Federal Reserve president, Narayana Kocherlakota.
In the question-and-answer session following a speech he gave in New York on Tuesday night, Kocherlakota was asked about the theory that one benefit of tightening Federal Reserve policy is that it gives the central bank room to loosen policy if economic conditions so warrant.
Kocherlakota, who dissented to the December Fed statement and doesn't favor a 2015 rate hike, responded that tightening policy should never become a goal in and of itself. And he used a personal story to illustrate that point.
"The first year I lived in Minnesota, when May came around, I figured, hey, it might be time to wear shorts. After all, I'd been wearing pants for a while at that point. So, I put on shorts. And well, let's just say that the next day, I was wearing pants again," he said, to some laughter from the audience.
So what lesson did he learn that chilly spring day?
"The goal is not to put on shorts just to put on shorts. The goal is to have a condition in which it's good to put on shorts—or to raise rates."
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