The major averages continue to set record highs, which provides further evidence that Wall Street is becoming more complacent with the growing dichotomy between equity prices and the underlying strength of the U.S. economy. When investors view the Wiltshire 5000 total market cap to GDP ratio, it becomes strikingly clear that economic growth has not at all kept pace with booming stock values in the past few years.
The reason for this huge discrepancy is clear: massive money printing by the Fed has led to rising asset prices; but at the same time has failed to boost productivity. In fact, since Quantitative Easing (QE) began back in November of 2008, the Fed's balance sheet has grown from $700 billion, to $4.5 trillion today. That is an increase of 540 percent! Yet, during the same time period U.S. GDP has only managed to increase from $14.5 trillion, to $18.8 trillion. For a comparative measly blip in growth of just 29 percent.
And this anemic state of GDP growth shows no signs of picking up steam, despite the hype and hope from Wall Street regarding the new president. After growing at just about 2 percent per year since coming out of the Great Recession, the Atlanta Fed's GDP Now forecast model has first quarter GDP growth coming in at a below-trend rate of just 1.3 percent.
But what's even worse is the denominator in that market cap to GDP equation has been artificially supported by that same central bank QE and artificially-low interest rates. This distorted type of Fed-engendered economic growth comes from encouraging the accumulation of more debt through the process of making loans dirt cheap.
Indeed, the housing bubble economy of a decade ago was abetted by taking the Fed Funds Rate (FFR) to one percent from June 2003-June 2004. Likewise, today's housing, equity and bond bubbles found their birth from a zero percent Fed Funds rate that was extent from December 2008-December 2015—and still stands below 1 percent today.
So what we have is an extremely dangerous situation indeed. While record high stock prices have become more detached from economic reality than ever before, the Fed has encouraged debt levels to surge to a record as well. And because robust growth has been absent, the level of the U.S. 10-year Note can't seem to get above 2.5 percent.