Meeting Ben Bernanke: The Day I Will Remember Forever

Last Wednesday (October 7, 2015), I had a chance to meet Ben Bernanke, former chairman of the Federal Reserve and the most powerful man in the world (well, was).

Not that I got a handshake, but got to ask a question.

So how did I get to meet him? It was part of WSJ Pro Central Banking events.

Recently, Wall Street Journal introduced a subscription service, “WSJ Pro”. It debuted with WSJ Pro Central Banking. Its parent company, Dow Jones, describes it as a “premium suite of industry and subject-specific content services, combining news, data, and events in a single membership platform.” The key word is “events”. “Events” is what I love about the subscription. “Events” in other words mean, meeting high-profile people and networking with people in the financial industry.

I had a free access for a while, but now that’s gone. During my trial, I registered for two events, “Breakfast Interview Series: William Dudley” and “Breakfast Interview Series: Ben Bernanke”. I was lucky enough to be chosen to go to both of them.

The event with William Dudley, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, took place on September 28. Did not get a chance to ask a question. Nevertheless, great event. Full video of the interview can be found here.

The event with Ben Bernanke took place on October 7. I was so excited for this particular event. Well, who doesn’t want to meet Ben Bernanke? I woke up on 4:30 in the morning and left my house at 6:45 AM. I got to the location of the event by about 7:50. When I checked in, I got an autographed copy of Mr. Bernanke’s new book, “The Courage to Act.” Signed, Sealed, Delivered.

It wasn’t until 8:30 AM when Mr. Bernanke entered the room, getting me and others excited. Along with him, there was WSJ’s Chief Economics Correspondent, Jon Hilsenrath, who also interviewed William Dudley the week before.

During the Q&A session, I got a chance to ask a question. I was so excited and confident. I strongly believed that I was not nervous at all. But, that wasn’t the case.

When I got handed the microphone, I instantly went blind. I forgot most of what I was going to say. It was like Warren Buffett, my idol, interviewing me for a job.

The first word out of my mouth was “student”, when I actually should have stated my name. Asking a question to a person like Ben Bernanke got me so nervous, I mumbled and rambled during my question. My question basically was, “If you were the president, what would you do about the taxes, corporate taxes, which is too high?”

Full video of the interview can be found here. I can be heard asking the question at 42:30.

I asked it because I strongly believe U.S. corporate taxes are too high, causing inversions. Although I got a reasonable answer, I believe I would have gotten better answer if I asked the question in a different way.

My first encounter with a high-profile person made me so nervous, yet taught me a big lesson. It significantly improved my confidence and ability to ask a question (to a high-profile person) without being so nervous. Who’s the next high-profile person I will meet? Janet Yellen?

A short video of Mr. Bernanke leaving the “stage”

A picture of Mr. Bernanke leaving the “stage”

Screenshot_2015-10-07-10-40-50 (3)

 

I will forever remember this day, October 7, 2015.

Thank you, Wall Street Journal.


UPDATE: At the event when I was asking the question,

WSJ (2)

Global Markets Crash + Asian Crisis Part 2

Global markets crash. Currency wars. What’s next? Good buying opportunity?

US markets: Markets plunged dramatically on Friday. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 530.94 points (3.12%), the worst one-day loss since November 2011 (on a % basis). The index is now down 10.2% (correction territory) below the May 19 closing and all-time high of 18,312, for the first time since 2011. For the week, the index is down 5.8%, the steepest decline since September 2011.

S&P 500 fell 64.84 points (3.19%), the worst one-day loss since November 2011 (on a % basis) and falling below 2,000 level for the first time since February. For the week, the index is also down 5.8%, the steepest decline since September 2011.

NASDAQ fell 171.45 (3.52%). For the week, the index is down 6.8%, the biggest weekly decline since August 2011.

European Markets: European stocks fell into correction territory on Friday. The Stoxx European 600 1.3% to 368.59. The index is down 11% from April 15 closing and all-time high of 414.06. For the week, the index is down 4.6%, the worst weekly performance since December. Other indexes fell into correction territory also. Germany’s DAX Index is down 18% from its highs. So far, 13 out of 18 western-European markets have lost 10% or more from their highs.

US oil prices fell just below $40 for the first time since February 2009, due to demand concerns and increasing supplies. US oil prices fell for their 8th consecutive week, the longest losing streak since 1986.

The CBOE Market Volatility Index (VIX) (also known as “Fear Index”) jumped 46.45% to $28.03 on Friday. For the week, the index rose 118.47% (from $12.83 to $28.03), largest % move ever in a week.


Three factors driving the free-fall of the global markets:

  • Growing concerns (or uncertainty) about China’s economy
  • US rate-hike uncertainty. Uncertainty is the market’s worst foe
  • Plunging oil prices

There are concerns about slowing growth in emerging economies, particularly China. Economic data from China showed manufacturing PMI in China fell to a 77-month low of 47.1 in August, down from July’s final reading of 47.8. A reading below 50 represent a contraction. About two weeks ago, China’s trade data showed that July exports declined by 8.3% year-over-year (Y/Y) due to a strong yuan and lower demand from its trading partners. Exports to the Japan, European Union, and United States fell 13%, 12.3%, and 1.3%, respectively. Exports are China’s strongest growth machine. The weakness in the fundamentals started (still is) putting pressures on policymakers. Then, a surprise move came.

On August 11 (days after the exports data), the People’s Bank of China (PBOC) made a surprising move to devalue its currency (so called “one-time” move), the renminbi (RMB) (or yuan), against the US dollar (greenback) by 1.9%, the biggest devaluation since 1994 and first devaluation since the yuan was de-pegged from the dollar in 2005. PBOC decided to lower daily reference rate – which sets the value of yuan against the greenback – to make yuan more market-oriented exchange rate.

Three reasons behind China’s move:

  • Weak fundamentals, including exports
  • Desire to be included in IMF SDR basket
  • Impending US rate-hike

China’s move increased concerns over the health of its economy (second largest economy in the world) and shocked the global markets which continues today. China’s devaluation signaled that the economy there must be worse than what everybody believes. Continuous slowdown as it shifts from an export-led economy to a consumer-led economy has led Chinese government (or PBOC) to help stimulate economic activity. Over the past year, they cut interest rates four times and cut RRR (Reserve Requirement Ratio) several times. The goal is to combat slowing growth by strengthening liquidity and boosting lending (so far, unsuccessful). The recent devaluation will make imports expensive and help boost exports (reminder: exports fell 8.3% Y/Y in July).

Another reason behind China’s recent move is its desire for the yuan to be included in the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) Special Drawing Rights (SDR), a basket of reserve currencies, in which the US Dollar, Euro, Japanese Yen, and British Pound are part of. Earlier this week, IMF decided to extend its scheduled revision of SDR basket (revision takes place every five years) by nine months (to September 30, 2016), giving China more time to make yuan (or Renminbi ) “freely usable”, a key requirement join the SDR basket.

Last reason behind China’s recent move is impending rate-hike in the US, which would support the greenback and would have consequences for China. The recent devaluation ended the era of Yuan appreciation which began in 2005 (reminder: yuan was de-pegged from the dollar in 2005). Ever since “Strong Yuan” policy began in 2005, Yuan (CNY) appreciated 28% against the US Dollar (USD), 30% against the Euro (EUR), and 65% against the Japanese Yen (JPY)

Rise of Yuan against most of its trading partners’ currencies has made its trading partners exports attractive. US rate-hike would have made China’s export rivals even more attractive. Now that China devalued its currency in the wake of falling exports (reminder: exports fell 8.3% Y/Y in July), its trading partners would want to protect their exports share. Therefore, China has fired the first shot to start currency wars.

Consequences of China’s actions:

Countries like Australia, Thailand, New Zealand, Malaysia and Canada are likely to suffer from China’s devaluation. These countries are largest exporter to China. Don’t also forget that these countries can affect other countries. Basically, it is “Domino Effect” economically.

Earlier this week, Kazakhstan – whose top trading partners are China and Russia – switch to a free float (which means that the central bank stopped managing the exchange rate), causing its currency, the tenge (KZT), to fall 25%. The move comes due to three reasons; crude prices (Kazakhstan is central Asia’s biggest crude exporter) fell 55% in the past year, Russian has allowed its currency (ruble) to depreciate significantly as commodity prices plummeted, and due to the yuan devaluation. The motivation for the move is to preserve its export competitiveness.

Vietnam has also allowed its currency, the dong, to weaken further due to the recent devaluation by its biggest trading partner, China. Who will be next to devalue their currency in this crisis; Asian Crisis Part 2.

Commodities denominated in US dollars will become more expensive to buyers in China, the world’s largest consumer of raw materials. When China’s economy slows, demand for raw materials, such as copper, Iron-ore, etc decreases and the lower demand puts downward pressure on commodity prices.

China, second-largest oil consumer, is causing oil prices to drop non-stop, which will hurt oil exporters, such as Canada (possibly leading to another rate-cut).

Falling commodity prices mean one other thing; deflationary pressures.

Slow growth and lower commodity prices most likely will lead other central banks, especially large commodity exporters to maintain their easy monetary policies for longer. Countries with large current account deficits and/or corporations with large amount of debt denominated in US dollars could see their economic/financial conditions worsen, causing them to further increase/expand their easy monetary policy (rate-cuts, for example). Not only commodity exporters and emerging countries will suffer, but also US companies.

US companies with significant exposure to China will suffer from China’s devaluation. Such companies are Wynn Resorts, Micron Technology, Yum Brands, and Apple, accounting for China sales exposure of 70%, 55%, 52% and 30%, respectively.


When I noticed China economic getting worse earlier this year, I knew Apple depended on China a lot, so I said that Apple was overvalued as more competitors were emerging and China’s economy was about to get worse. Even though Apple’s earnings came out better than expected, I went ahead on twitter and responded to Carl Icahn’s comments on the Apple and the market. He expected (maybe still expects) Apple’s stock price to double, which I did not (and I still don’t). More competitors are starting to emerge and China’s economic conditions are getting worse (debt bubble coming).

Mr. Icahn believed the market was extremely overheated and expected market bubble. I have to agree with him. I preferred (still prefer) to use the term “correction”. At this time, I believe current market sell-off is temporary and the dust will be settled in a month (good-buying opportunity). I expect “market bubble” after the Fed raises interest rates to the range of 0.70% and 0.80% (early 2017?). That’s when market sell-off will be much worse than the current situation.

I’m calling Mr. Icahn to respond to my questions; how do you think China’s action will affect global economies (or markets)? Do you still think Apple could double in price?


Now, let’s get back to how else China can affect global economies (deflationary pressures). I expect Europe’s economy and Japan’s economy to slow down.

Europe’s economy will slow down due to export demand decreasing and the uncertainty created by Greece (Yes, they did get a bailout deal, but it’s not over). That’s why I believe European Central Bank (ECB) will either lower interest rates even further or they will increase current Quantitative Easing (QE) program, pushing Euro currency lower. Current falling prices in the European markets are a golden opportunity. Lower interest rates and/or increased QE program will send European equity prices higher>>>all-time highs will be made.

Japan, China’s largest trading partner, will also suffer due to export demand decreasing. The devaluation of yuan (or, Renminbi) will make Japanese exports less competitive. Japan’s economy is still suffering despite Abenomics (similar to QE). Recent data showed GDP (Gross Domestic Product) falling at annual pace of 1.6% in 2nd quarter, due to slowing exports and lack of consumer spending. Abenomics has failed. Additional monetary easing coming? If the economy does not get any better in the next several months, I expect additional monetary easing by the Bank of Japan (BoJ).

I don’t believe the Federal Reserve will stop its plan to hike the rates, but it will slow the pace of it. On Wednesday (August 19), Fed minutes of July meeting (leaked earlier) showed that Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) members “…judged that the conditions for policy firming had not yet been achieved, but they noted that conditions were approaching that point.” They also said that “…the recent decreases in oil prices and the possibility of adverse spillovers from slower economic growth in China raised some concerns.” US dollar has been falling ever since the release of fed minutes, as expectations for September rate-hike decreased.

Now more troubles emerged, I wonder what the Fed will say or do. There are many US economic reports that will come until the Fed’s September meeting. The reports will decide the fate of rate-hike for September. At this time, I expect the Fed to hike the rates in September by 10 basis points (or 0.10%).

If the current China situation (or Asian Crisis Part 2) gets out of control, there will be no rate-hike for the rest of year even if there’s strong US economic reports.

All comments welcomed. Thank you.


Disclaimer: The posts are not a recommendation to buy or sell any stocks, currencies, etc mentioned. They are solely my personal opinions. Every investor/trader must do his/her own due diligence before making any investment/trading decision.