First, the New York Times headline:
Fed to Buy U.S. Debt, Saying Recovery Has Slowed
August 10, 2010, 2:19 pm
The Federal Reserve acknowledged Tuesday that its confidence in the economic recovery had dimmed, and it announced that it would use the proceeds from its huge mortgage-bond portfolio to buy long-term Treasury securities, The New York Times’s Sewell Chan reports from Washington.
Bu bu but I thought Barry Messiah said this would be the summer of economic recovery. I thought Barry Hussein had kissed the economy with his beatific wonderfulness and made it all better.
The fourth paragraph in the Slimes article underscores the fact that the Keystone cops of the Obama administration have absolutely no idea what they’re doing:
The Fed’s new stance marked the completion of a turnabout from a few months ago, when officials were discussing when and how to eventually raise interest rates and gradually shrink the $2.3 trillion balance sheet the Fed amassed through its response to the 2008 financial crisis.
Wednesday, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke warned Congress that the Federal Reserve does not plan to “print money” to help Congress finance the exploding U.S. national debt. In fact, Bernanke told Congress that the U.S. could soon face a debt crisis as bad as the one in Greece if the U.S. government does not get things in order financially. This represents a fundamental change in policy for the Federal Reserve, because they have been enabling the massive borrowing by the U.S. government over the past couple of years by “buying” the majority of new U.S. government debt that has been issued. But now the fat cats over at the Federal Reserve have apparently changed their minds. Using uncharacteristic bluntness, Bernanke told Congress that the Federal Reserve is ”not going to monetize the debt”.So why is the Federal Reserve changing course?
Well, have no fear: the Federal Reserve is Re-changing course. Like a boomerang that comes back around to smack an ignorant fool right in the head. Perhaps they have come to realize that the U.S. economy is about to flush down the drain and plunge into a deep, dark hole, and they figure the fall might be softer if we land on giant piles of worthless currency.
Yes we’ll monetize the debt. Oh no we won’t. Oh yes we will. Stop arguing with me! But I am you!
I thought the following was a good article due to its provision of a historic context for today’s Fed decision:
The Federal Reserve, in announcing the results of this week’s meeting of the Open Market Committee, surprised the market by revealing it will begin purchasing US Treasury notes and bonds with the principal income it receives from its vast holdings of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac mortgage securities. This practice – wherein the Fed buys up US government securities and injects cash into the public market as payment for these securities – is a form of monetizing the debt. The last time the Fed did this on a big scale was back in the 1960s when it attempted to mop up the excess Treasury securities that were flooding the market as a result of Lyndon Johnson’s efforts to finance the Vietnam War. That Fed program was viewed at the time as a failure, since the cash the Fed put back into the economy in exchange for the securities was a big reason – perhaps the major reason – why price inflation accelerated from the late 1960s until a decade later, when Paul Volcker managed to squelch inflation once and for all with forbiddingly high interest rates.
The market was expecting some sort of monetary stimulus, but not this. The expectation was that the Fed would renew its “quantitative easing” program involving Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac securities – a program designed to push down long term mortgage rates. That program was successful inasmuch as mortgage rates are at record lows, but it left the Fed with well over a trillion dollars of these securities on its balance sheet. Fed officials have lately been pondering publicly how to get rid of these securities, and apparently have concluded they can’t under present market conditions without forcing mortgage rates back up again, which would only hurt the housing market. Instead, these officials have concluded that the Fed has no choice but to hold on to these securities until they mature, which is well over 10 years from now for the portfolio.
The Fed receives billions of dollars of principal and interest payments every year on this portfolio, and what to do with this cash has always been open for discussion until now. But using principal proceeds from these securities to monetize the government debt is fraught with risk. For one, should the housing market start to weaken again and foreclosures rise from current levels, the Fed will be sitting on billions of dollars of credit losses on its portfolio. This could eat up most if not all of the profit it would otherwise earn on this portfolio. Second, older investors have memories of the nasty inflationary consequences the last time the Fed monetized the debt, and the market has become very skittish about the risk of inflation, and maybe even hyperinflation ala Weimar Germany, that could result from the enormous fiscal and monetary stimulus put into the economy since 2007.
In terms of these risks, the best thing the Fed has going for it at the moment is that the pricing problem facing the current economy is not inflation, but deflation. A growing number of economists, and even some Fed governors, are worrying outright about deflation, but at least in a deflationary environment the Fed is given a lot more leeway to monetize the debt and build up its balance sheet as a consequence. The Fed press release today did not mention deflation per se, but the FOMC no longer described the economy as “progressing”, as it did in June. Instead, the Fed sees an economy with substantial slack, a stagnant housing market, repressed earnings power for workers, and very low inflation.
The bond market was happy to buy Treasuries on this news, concentrating in the 2 to 10 year maturities, in anticipation of higher prices (and thus lower yields) once the Fed begins actively purchasing. So far, in other words, the bond market sees no risk of inflation, much less hyperinflation, and is content to see yields continue to head to record low levels. Such excessively low yields on government bonds have only been seen in deflationary economies like Japan has experienced for nearly two decades. This is in essence what the bond market is forecasting for the US economy.
The stock market, which has been on a tear since early July, took this news in stride, but time and past experience is weighing heavily on this stock rally. When bond yields fall to record lows, this has never boded well for equities. In a deflationary economy, stock prices are one of the main victims, and the US stock markets have so far shown no significant adjustment downwards to reflect deflation. Stocks may have some serious “catching up” to do.
At the least, we can say we are no longer in that environment in the spring when Fed governors were talking seriously about how they were going to remove all their monetary stimulus now that the economy has recovered. Instead, we are witnessing yet another round of monetary stimulus, a recognition by the Fed that their previous efforts have failed to ignite a sustainable recovery.
All this from the Federal Reserve, an entity that is neither “federal” nor a “reserve.” It is a private bank that issues currency based on fiat of delegated institutional power. And what it is doing now is akin to photocopying a dollar bill to pay a credit card bill. Another analogy would be if you were facing bankruptcy, and decided to start buying your own furniture from yourself.
Mind you, this is only partly the Federal Reserve’s fault. They are in an impossible position as the Failure-in-Chief continues a path of spending America into collapse, and they have to figure out how to finance Obama’s addiction.
The Obama administration alternately fearmongered and promised that if the stimulus was passed that unemployment would not rise above 8%. They lied. The rate has been dropping from an earlier high exceeding 10% only because discouraged workers who give up are paradoxically dropped off the roles and aren’t counted. Then they spent months creating pure fictions such as “created or saved” as “evidence” that Obama’s failed policy had succeeded.
“One can search economic textbooks forever without finding a concept called `jobs saved.’ It doesn’t exist for good reason…” – Allan Meltzer, professor of political economy
“There is no way to measure how many jobs are saved.” – Harvard economics Professor Gregory Mankiw
Then Obama spent months telling us that the economy was recovering when it really wasn’t, culminating in his bogus “summer of economic recovery.”
This is an administration that falsely takes credit for a false recovery even as they falsely blame Bush and refuse to accept responsibility for their own policies. It’s “win, we win, lose, Bush loses.”
These people should have zero-point-zero-zero credibility.
Tags: Ben Bernanke, buy U.S. debt, confidence, created or saved, Fannie, Fed, Federal Reserve, Freddie, monetize the debt, monetizing the debt, mortgage, portfolio, print money, recovery, risk, securities, slowed, stimulus, summer of recovery, unemployment