Have nothing to do with the [evil] things that people do, things that belong to the darkness. Instead, bring them out to the light... [For] when all things are brought out into the light, then their true nature is clearly revealed...

-Ephesians 5:11-13

Tag Archives: Money Supply

Impact of Fed’s Plan to Do a “QE Unwind”

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Tuesday, September 19, 2017: 

English: Official picture of Janet Yellen from...

Janet Yellen

What makes tomorrow’s [today’s – Wednesday, September 20] meeting at the Federal Reserve so interesting to market watchers and bond investors is the likelihood that Fed Chair Janet Yellen will provide more details on her plans to begin unwinding the Fed’s balance sheet: how much, how fast, how soon, and what does it all mean? In addition, she is hoping to placate conservatives in Congress who remain unhappy over the Fed’s intervention in the markets in the aftermath of the real estate collapse that triggered the Great Recession.

In June, Yellen outlined some possible scenarios, which included letting some of the bonds on the central bank’s enormous $4.2 trillion balance sheet simply mature without reinvesting the funds in new issues. She suggested the Fed would also start selling off some $10 billion a month of existing securities, and then raise that amount every quarter until it reaches $50 billion a month. This way, by expanding on her plans, and by slowly — very slowly — shrinking the Fed massive balance sheet, she hopes to avoid another “taper tantrum” that bond investors experienced back in 2013 when then-chairman Ben Bernanke first said the Fed should start reducing some of its holdings of U.S. Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities.

If she provides sufficient clarity, and sufficient caution, Yellen might not only start the process without disrupting the market, but also avoid further criticism from congressional critics who think the Fed stepped way out of bounds in starting the whole “quantitative easing” (QE) program in the first place. In that way — again, if she is successful — she will not only cement into place the Fed as a necessary element in the American economy, but show that further “QE” expansions to meet future recessions are a legitimate tool.

Whether she can pull it off is an open question. Keynesian economist Austan Goolsbee, who headed Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors in 2010 and 2011, said, “The final exam, with the grade yet to be determined, is: can the Fed actually get out of this stuff?”

The Fed has been essentially flying blind for years, moving outside not only its mandate (to maximize labor force participation while keeping inflation under control) but its past experience. Said David Blanchflower, a Dartmouth College economist (read: Keynesian) who was on the monetary policy committee of the Bank of England from 2006 to 2009, expressed it perfectly: “We had no idea what we should buy, how much, for how long … [and] there is no idea on the way going out.”

It was all a grand experiment: expand the money supply to keep interest rates so far below market rates that people seeking income would take higher risks — i.e., dividend-paying stocks, real estate ventures, etc. — and home owners would find it easier to buy houses. This was the Keynesian antidote to the economic collapse. Rather than let the economy right itself by itself (see America’s recession and recovery in 1920-1921), Keynesians suffer the hubris to think they know better than the market, and intervened, resulting in the longest, slowest recovery from a recession in American history.

Once the Fed began to embark on its plan to bail out banks and other financial institutions in the wake of the real estate collapse, there was no going back. When the federal government took over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — mortgage insurers that were approaching bankruptcy — it found that it needed to buy up billions of their failing mortgages. That explains why $1.7 billion of the Fed’s balance sheet consists of mortgages and mortgage-backed securities.

But when that didn’t work the Fed adopted the strategy of “quantitative easing” (QE) — creating money to spur spending across the economy — which some observers thought would never end.

But it did end, in 2014, and the Fed has been sitting on its massive pile of government and mortgage debt, waiting for the economy to revive enough so it could be offloaded without major economic disruptions.

The Fed won’t be unwinding its entire portfolio. Instead it expects to reduce it by between $800 billion and $1 trillion over the next few years, leaving in place a balance sheet of between $2.5 and $3.2 trillion. This means that the Fed will never again see days when its balance sheet shrinks all the way back to the $900 billion it had prior to the Great Recession.

Its plan should have little impact on short-term rates. Using the 10-year Treasury as the standard, when Yellen’s plan (assuming it begins in October) kicks in, it might boost its yield by perhaps a quarter of a percentage point. This would be the natural result of increasing supply in a market with a fixed demand. When more is supplied, prices will go down. In the bond market that translates into a mini-interest rate hike.

But demand from abroad for U.S. bonds continues to be strong. Yields on 10-year bonds issued by foreign governments such as Japan’s and Germany’s remain far below U.S. 10-year bonds and so any increase in rates here will only make them more attractive to foreign buyers.

In fact, once Yellen has filled in the details, as she is expected to do on Wednesday, investors and market watchers are likely to express a sigh of relief, and continue the Fed-fueled rally in stocks that began in 2009 and that shows little sign of stopping. Diane Swonk, chief economist at DS Economics, agrees: “The start to reducing the Fed’s balance sheet is an action the markets are ready for. The Fed has laid out a roadmap and there is really a sense of relief to finally get it started.”

Venezuela’s Marxist Dictator Orders Arrest of Bakers Making Croissants

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Friday, March 17, 2017:

Português: Brasília - O chanceler da Venezuela...

Four bakers trying to make ends meet were arrested earlier this week in Caracas, the capital of Venezuela, a country that was once one of South America’s premier economic powerhouses. Venezuela’s ruler, Nicolas Maduro, mandated that 90 percent of scarce flour be turned into bread, which must be sold at a loss, rather than higher-priced sweet bread, ham-filled croissants, pastries, and cakes.Two bakers apparently broke this law, and two used out-of-date wheat for brownies. At least one baker will have his bakery taken over by the government for 90 days. The bakers, operating under Maduro’s mandates that they use government-imported wheat for flour to bake bread and sell it below their costs, were on survival mode, as are most of the people living in Venezuela’s socialist paradise.

Maduro, rather than to take the justified blame for the economic malaise that his socialist policies have caused, has dreamed up all manner of straw men to blame for the country’s woes, starting with

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Will Mick Mulvaney Pull Trump’s Financial Fat Out of the Fire?

This article was published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, December 19, 2016:  

English: Official portrait of US Rep. Mick Mul...

Michael “Mick” Mulvaney (shown) rode the Tea Party wave in 2010 into Congress, replacing a 14-term Democrat from South Carolina’s 5th District. He has been handily reelected ever since. He took his oath of office seriously, saying in 2010 that “If political reporters want to know what drives the Tea Partiers, it is their belief in the Constitution. That’s what has always driven me in politics and will guide me in Congress.”

He remained as true to his word as any of those riding the same wave,

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Venezuelan Currency Lost Half Its Value in November

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Monday, November 28, 2016:  

Português: Brasília - O chanceler da Venezuela...

Nicolas Maduro

Bloomberg reported last Thursday that Venezuela’s currency — the bolívar fuerte or “strong bolivar” — has lost 45 percent of its purchasing power so far this month, with six days to go. The underlying cause was put simply by Professor Milton Friedman, a member of the “Chicago School” of economic free market thinking and winner in 1976 of the Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences: “Inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon … and can be produced only by a more rapid increase in the quantity of money than in output.”

On the other hand, Venezuela’s president, Nicolas Maduro,

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Standard & Poor’s Downgrades Chinese Sovereign Debt

This article appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Thursday, March 31, 2016: 

Cover of "Coming Collapse of China"

The last of the three credit rating agencies to recognize China’s ongoing economic implosion, Standard & Poor’s, downgraded its rating on Chinese debt modestly on Thursday. The agency maintained its AA rating (one notch below its highest) but changed its outlook to “negative,” meaning another downgrade is possible within the next 12 months. It said:

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The Fed Joins Other Voices Predicting a U.S. Recession

This article was published by The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on March 22, 2016:  

Harry Dent, the author of The Great Crash Ahead, says that the current rebound in stocks is a head-fake of the first order, that the end of the seven-year bull market in stocks occurred last May. He said just look at a three-year chart of the SPX (Standard and Poor’s 500 Index) and see the rounded top formation.

Instead, talking heads all across the media are calling the recent rise following the precipitous decline that began the first day of trading of 2016 just a speed bump, a hiccup as the seven-year-long bull market in stocks is getting its second wind.

Markit Ltd., the monster financial services and advisory company located in London, issued its first warning in late February with its flash that its services purchasing managers’ index

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China Export Shipping Declines by Two-thirds

This article first appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Thursday, May 7, 2015: 

Two weeks ago the Shanghai Containerized Freight Index (SCFI), which tracks shipping rates from Shanghai to the world, fell off a cliff: down a breath-taking 67 percent from a year ago. Wolf Richter thought it was a statistical fluke.

It was no fluke. In the next two weeks the SCFI for Northern Europe fell another 14 percent, an all-time low. Wrote Richter: “Something big is going on in the China-Europe trade.”

The collapse is being echoed by other indexes reflecting the breathtaking decline in China’s exports. For example

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Do Negative Interest Rates Portend a Negative Economy?

This article first appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Monday, May 4, 2015:

Last Thursday the London Daily Telegraph’s assistant editor, Jeremy Warner, reported an astonishing statistic: Almost a third of all government debt in the eurozone is paying negative interest rates. That’s more than $2 trillion in government bonds, and, it appears, investors are happy that they aren’t paying even more.

Fifty percent of French bonds now trade with a negative yield, while 70 percent of Germany’s bonds trade at a negative yield. More remarkably, in Spain, which was on the verge of insolvency just a few years ago, 17 percent of its government bonds now trade with a negative yield.

This is counterintuitive, which explains why Keynesians, those who believe that “demand” in an economy can be artificially increased by manipulating taxes and the money supply, have no explanation for it. In theory,

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House Bill Offered to Study “Real World” Effects of Fed Policy

In anticipation of the upcoming 100th anniversary of the Federal Reserve on December 23rd, House member Kevin Brady (R-Texas) and Chairman of the House’s Joint Economic Committee, decided back in March to offer a bill to create a commission to

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Summers is out, Yellen is in, the Fed rolls on

Just when it appeared that Larry Summers had the nomination for the next Fed chair all wrapped up, Summers called the White House on Sunday and told his good friend, President Obama, that he was withdrawing his name from consideration. He then sent a formal withdrawal letter to the president:

I have reluctantly concluded that any possible confirmation process for me would be acrimonious and would not serve the interest of the Federal Reserve, the Administration or, ultimately, the interests of the nation’s ongoing economic recovery.

The president dutifully responded with the appropriate accolades:

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CNBC says Larry Summers to replace Ben Bernanke at the Fed

Citing an unnamed source from “Team Obama”, CNBC announced that Larry Summers will be named head of the Federal Reserve by President Obama to replace outgoing chairman Ben Bernanke whose term expires on December 31st.

Despite much media conversation about other potential candidates for the position, chief among them Fed Vice Chairman Janet Yellen, Summers always had the inside track. Summers served as

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Central Banks’ bubble is bursting, sending markets down worldwide

When the Japanese stock market lost more than 6 percent of its value on Wednesday in a massive selloff, pundits jumped on the move to try to explain what happened, and what it all means. Evan Lucas, a market strategist at IG Markets, wrote:

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Slowing Economy Confirmed

The report from Automatic Data Processing (ADP) on Wednesday morning surprised economists once again by coming in substantially below their expectations. The 135,000 new private sector jobs created in May were way below the

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If the Fed has created so much new money, where is the inflation?

Frank Shostak, a scholar at the Mises Institute, asks the same question: where is the price inflation that is supposed to follow the creation of new money? Shostak asks it far more eloquently than I:

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Is the Fed running out of bullets?

MarketWatch is run by competent commentators with a slight conservative cast to their writings. It’s part of the Wall Street Journal’s online offerings. With that in mind, I take an exception to two points of view expressed yesterday in its article about the Fed “running out of bullets.”

First, the article says that the Fed is going to

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Proposed Changes to US Currency Symptom of Much Larger Disease

US Currency in UV, visible and IR light

US Currency in UV, visible and IR light (Photo credit: xxv)

Within days of each other, two announcements concerning the future of the US currency appeared in the popular press, and each avoided any mention whatsoever of the primary driver of the changes.

First was the announcement on November 26th from Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner that the U.S. Mint will begin removing pennies and nickels from circulation starting the first of the year, allegedly that they’re too expensive to make. It costs the mint nearly 5 cents to make each penny while it costs more than 16 cents to make a nickel. This is costing the mint a lot of money, an estimated $187 million last year alone.

Two days later CNN reported that the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has called on the Congress to stop printing one-dollar bills and switch instead to one-dollar coins. The GAO claimed that such a move could actually make the government some money:

A $1 coin typically costs about 30 cents for the U.S. Mint to produce, but then the government can sell them to Americans for a dollar each. That financial gain is called seigniorage, and over a period of 30 years, it could [make] the U.S. government about $4.4 billion, the GAO said.

Avoiding the real issue, the GAO said that although the coins cost more to make, they would last longer, thus turning a profit to the government:

We continue to believe that replacing the note with a coin is likely to provide a financial benefit to the government if the note is eliminated and negative public reaction is effectively managed through stakeholder outreach and public education.

Unfortunately there is little likelihood that any of that “outreach” and “education” will include any attempt at explaining why the change is necessary.

The real issue is the declining purchasing power of the currency. And that goes back to the year 1913 when the Federal Reserve System was

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Austrian School Economics in Estonia

Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics

Quarterly Journal of Austrian Economics (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For many, Austrian school economics is theoretical nonsense. It’s nice to read about. It’s nice and logical. It’s common sense economics. But it really can’t apply to the real world. After all, with paper currency backed by nothing and central banks running the show, Austrian thinking is strictly theoretical.

Or maybe not.  Frank Shostak, a scholar at the Mises Institute, has uncovered something quite remarkable in Estonia:

Against the background of a severe economic crisis in the eurozone, one is surprised to find a member of the euro area that is actually showing good economic performance. This member is Estonia. In terms of so-called real gross domestic product (GDP) the average yearly rate of growth in Estonia stood at 8.4 percent in 2011 against overall eurozone performance of 1.5 percent. So far in 2012 the average yearly growth stood at 2.8 percent in Estonia versus -0.2 percent in the eurozone.

How about unemployment there?

Also note that the unemployment rate in Estonia displays a visible decline: it fell to 5.9 percent in August from 7.6 percent in January. In contrast, the unemployment rate in the eurozone climbed to lofty levels in August. After closing at 10.8 percent in January, the eurozone unemployment rate shot up to 11.4 percent in August.

One of the basic premises of Austrian economics is the “cleansing” process that must take place to

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Is QE3 a Myth?

English: President Barack Obama confers with F...

President Barack Obama confers with Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke following their meeting at the White House. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Graham Summers, writing for ZeroHedge, has pointed out that Fed head Ben Bernanke hasn’t done any new buying of securities despite his promise to do so back in September. The Fed publishes its balance sheet. You can see it here, in graphical form. As Summers said, if Bernanke was buying, how come the measure of money – the adjusted monetary base – is declining?

Would Bernanke lie? Oh, no!

The stock market jumped up nicely at the news, but has retraced most of those paper gains. Maybe the market has figured it out: it was

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The Fed is Losing Its Credibility?

Description: Newspaper clipping USA, Woodrow W...

Newspaper clipping USA, Woodrow Wilson signs creation of the Federal Reserve. Source: Date: 24 December 1913 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Federal Reserve’s promise to hold borrowing costs at record lows into 2015 risks a loss of its credibility and a downward spiral in financial markets, according to the Center for Financial Stability.

The Center for Financial Stability (CFS) is a relative newcomer to the field of financial analysis, a think tank dedicated to providing the public with the straight scoop – the skinny – about financial markets. I wish them luck. If this quote  from their latest article is any indication, they’re headed in the right direction.

I don’t know yet if they hold the Fed in the same low esteem that I do, but they do recognize that it only has two tools in its toolkit: words and printing:

The Fed is essentially making a bet that its promise will in fact keep long-term rates low for that period as well,” said Lawrence Goodman, president of the CFS in New York, a research group focused on global finance and markets, in an interview.

“If rates edge higher due to factors such as inflation or credit issues, then the Fed will suffer a loss of its reputational state and that could have complications all across the yield curve. That can happen quickly and can unleash a forceful slide in the market and could thrust the economy back into recession.”

Well, Goodman got that part right. They’re “making a bet” which may not pan out. Inflation is one reason. The monetary inflation has already taken place, and the Fed is continuing to inflate the money supply as I write. I liken it to a dam with flood waters building behind it. The dam is peoples’ expectation that their money will retain its value and that a good thing to do with it, in a recession, is to keep it nice and safe somewhere, using it to pay off debts and building savings accounts and “rainy day” funds.

But that dam could break at any moment. I wish the historical literature were clearer on when it has broken in the past. Some call it a “trigger point.” But it is a BFO moment – a blinding flash of the obvious – that the money isn’t safe, its purchasing power is diminishing, and – comes the moment: “Gosh, I better spend it now before it loses any more value!” – the game is over. The dam has burst, the flood of money already created pours into the marketplace, driving up the prices of everything – everything!

The other concern the CFS has is “credit issues.” This is important. At some point – again indeterminate, unfortunately – when bond holders determine that they are taking excessive risks by holding US treasury securities, and start demanding higher interest rates to offset that increased risk. Again: game over. The government’s costs of borrowing will increase, increasing the risk of default. It’s called a vicious circle: the increase in costs increases the chances of default, so even higher interest rates are demanded…

The CFS’s solution? Stop buying those government securities! But that would merely hasten the day of rising interest rates, wouldn’t it? The Fed is the buyer of last resort. If they stop buying, who else would? It’s a fatal game.

The CFS throws up its hands:

“The monetary transmission mechanism is seriously flawed. So the Fed needs to find alternatives to printing money.”

The only problem is that there are none. There are only two tools in the Fed’s toolbox.

The Fed is Playing With Fire

Ben Bernanke

Ben Bernanke (Photo credit: Paul RA)

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s promise not only to expand the money supply by buying more mortgage-backed securities but to continue doing so until he sees “ongoing sustained improvement in the labor market” has sparked numerous warnings of unintended consequences as a result. The Federal Open Market Committee said on September 13:

If the outlook for the labor market does not improve substantially, the committee will continue its purchases of agency mortgage-backed securities, undertake additional asset purchases, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate until such improvement is achieved in a context of price stability.

One of the people who is most nervous about the Fed’s plan to continue to print until the recovery begins in earnest is Martin Feldstein, former chairman of President Ronald Reagan’s Council of Economic Advisors. Writing in The Financial Times newspaper, Feldstein called Bernanke’s idea a “dangerous” strategy which could lead to

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Many of the articles on Light from the Right first appeared on either The New American or the McAlvany Intelligence Advisor.