The announcement that a tentative agreement had been reached between the Department of Justice and JPMorgan (JPM) was surprising only in the size of the penalty the country’s largest bank (and second largest in the world) agreed to pay:
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
With Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s latest announcement of a new bond-buying program linked to unemployment data instead of the calendar, commentators called it an “historic move,” “another innovation,” and a “surprise” that amounts to a “complete reversal” from the Fed’s days of using Fedspeak to disguise and obfuscate its moves.
After reviewing how the economy looks from the Fed’s point of view, Bernanke announced that his Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) will
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
To support a stronger economic recovery and to help ensure that inflation, over time, is at the rate most consistent with its dual mandate, the Committee agreed today to increase policy accommodation by purchasing additional agency mortgage-backed securities at a pace of $40 billion per month.
The Federal Reserve: The Biggest Scam In History (Photo credit: CityGypsy11)
So, another $40 billion of new money pouring into the economy, right? That’s how the Fed operates: it doesn’t borrow the money to buy those mortgage-backed securities that banks are holding (and would love to get rid of and dump onto the Fed). It’s going to “create” that new money and use it to buy them.
That’s the classical definition of inflation. It’s also a classic indicator of panic on the part of the Fed. I mean, what else could they do? The only tools they have are deception and printing.
Here’s the deception part, from the Fed’s official press release (I’ve italicized the relevant parts):
Information received since the Federal Open Market Committee met in August suggests that economic activity has continued to expand at a moderate pace in recent months. Growth in employment has been slow, and the unemployment rate remains elevated. Household spending has continued to advance, but growth in business fixed investment appears to have slowed. The housing sector has shown some further signs of improvement, albeit from a depressed level. Inflation has been subdued, although the prices of some key commodities have increased recently. Longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.
Let’s look at these highlighted parts of the Fed announcement:
Economic recovery has continued to expand at a moderate pace in recent months.
What recovery? ECRI called for a recession a year ago, iterated its position back in June, and just reiterated it again last week. John Huntsman and Mish Shedlock both concur: we’re already in a recession.
Growth in employment has been slow.
Slow? How about non-existent? It’s growing so slowly that more people are leaving the workforce than are being hired. How about that for “slow?”
The unemployment rate remains elevated.
It’s actually much worse than officially reported (more reliable estimates put the rate at 15 percent, some even higher). The unemployment rate went down because of those people ending their job search efforts!
Growth in business fixed investment appears to have slowed.
Well, what would you expect? Would you invest in this economy now? Why? The Fed is awfully slow in coming to this obvious conclusion.
The housing sector has shown some further signs of improvement, albeit from a depressed level.
Housing starts are running about 750,000 a year, down from 1.2 million in 2007. That’s about 60 percent of normal. Some improvement!
The prices of some key commodities have increased recently.
Oh, really? Have you looked at the price of gold and silver lately? The are setting new highs as I’m writing this!
Deceive and print: how about that as a strategy to get the economy moving again?
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New York’s Eric Schneiderman (right) is the only Attorney General who doesn’t like the foreclosure settlement agreed to by the major banks behind the mortgage-backed-securities (MBS) and foreclosure (robo-signing and faked-documents) frauds that helped bring on the economic crisis in 2008. And he is feeling the heat. In exchange for a small fine, the settlement agreement would end the years-long investigations by New York and other states into the frauds, and would prevent them or any of the investors hurt by the frauds from ever bringing additional charges in the future.
But Schneiderman’s investigation into the shady practices behind the development and sale of MBSs isn’t complete, and signing off on such an agreement now would end his efforts and forever protect the banks from further public exposure to their back office practices.
Image by elycefeliz via Flickr
When Henry Blodgett explained that the reason for the decline in the price of Bank of America’s stock was because Wall Street thinks that Bank of America is worth less—much less—than what the bank itself thinks, bank spokesman Larry DiRita responded, “Mr. Blodgett is making exaggerated and unwarranted claims…[and that] as of June 30th, our tangible book value per share was $12.65.” At the time, BofA stock was selling for $6.42 a share.
The bank’s sharp retort caught Blodgett by surprise:
I was eating a tuna sandwich when I saw the news clip across Bloomberg TV. I almost choked.
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Moody’s announcement on Tuesday that it would retain its AAA rating of U.S. government sovereign debt as a result of the debt-limit agreement came with a warning: the government must rein in spending or risk a downgrade anyway. The deal “virtually eliminated the risk of [a] default,” but the agency warned that “Should the new mechanism put in place by the Budget Control Act prove ineffective, this could affect the rating negatively.” Moody’s added that it wanted to see the United States lower its debt-to-GDP ratio, now approaching 100 percent, to around
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New York University economics professor Nouriel Roubini made a name for himself back in 2005 by predicting the Great Recession long before others did. Fortune magazine wrote “In 2005 Roubini said home prices were riding a speculative wave that would soon sink the economy.” The New York Times said he predicted “homeowners defaulting on mortgages, trillions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities unraveling worldwide and the global financial system shuddering to a halt.” In September, 2006 Roubini warned that “the United States was likely to face a once-in-a-lifetime housing bust, an oil shock, sharply declining consumer confidence, and, ultimately, a deep recession.”
Image by Getty Images via @daylife
The first warning about the possible bankruptcy of the town of Vallejo, California, was reported by the Associated Press on February 28, 2008, when Councilwoman Stephanie Gomes said, “Our financial situation is getting worse every single day. No city or private person wants to declare bankruptcy, but if you’re facing insolvency, you have no choice but to seek protection.”
Marci Fritz, vice president of the California Foundation for Fiscal Responsibility, blamed the action on promises made earlier by the council to the city’s employees concerning salaries and retirement benefits that the city no longer can afford. According to Fritz, these were promises made during economically flush times, and were due to the city council’s unrealistic expectations that those times would continue indefinitely.
When TARP Inspector General Neil Barofsky criticized the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) as being ineffective, he blamed the Treasury Department for not setting clearer goals for that part of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP).
Only 390,000 homeowners “have seen their mortgage terms permanently modified since the $50 billion program was announced in March 2009. That is a small fraction of the three to four million borrowers who were supposed to receive assistance under the program.”
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When ABC News announced that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac would be de-listed by the New York Stock Exchange on July 8, writer Rich Blake said that “these once mighty enterprises will trade alongside stocks on the Over-The-Counter Bulletin Board, a place where many companies go to die.”
As a eulogy Blake expressed the usual statist paean: “It’s difficult to contemplate how the U.S. mortgage market could function without the nearly $6 trillion in funding they provide to this market and the institutions that comprise it…The housing sector would be in even worse shape if not for those twin…enterprises.”
Image by CityGypsy11 via Flickr
The Federal Reserve ended its largest intervention in the housing market on April 1, ceasing its purchase of Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS) that began in September of 2008 in order to keep the housing market from imploding.
According to the New York Times, the program succeeded in keeping “mortgage interest rates at near-record lows and slowing the nationwide decline in home prices.” Professor Susan Wachter at the Wharton School explained: “We were in a deflationary spiral, causing mortgages to go underwater, more foreclosures and a further decline in housing prices. The potential maelstrom of destruction was out there, bringing down not only the housing market but the overall economy. That’s what [this program] stopped.” She added that this Fed program was “the single most important move to stabilize the economy and to prevent a debacle.”
Wachter’s statements reveal many errors in her thinking, but especially her belief in interventionism as a cure for the inevitable effects of previous inflationary policies.
Free markets, in the full sense of the phrase, exist only in the minds and imaginations of free-market economists from the Austrian School, such as Ludwig von Mises and Murray Rothbard.
The classic definition is simply a market without intervention or regulation by government. In truth, commerce in any developed country is always controlled to some extent by government. A free market requires the right to own property, which means that the wages, earnings, profits, and gains obtained by providing products and services to others belongs to the individual generating them. The assumption is that an individual with this kind of freedom would only make an exchange that gained him a benefit.
When MSNBC headlined the report that existing home sales surged by 7.4 percent in November (according to the National Association of Realtors), it suggested that such an improvement boosted “recovery hopes.” Others jumped on the recovery bandwagon, including Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, and former Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board Alan Blinder.
According to Geithner, it’s now reasonable to expect “positive job growth” by spring and correct to assert that people should have confidence in an improving economy. “I think most people would say the economy actually is strengthening now,” he added.
On Monday, December 7, the Supreme Court began hearing arguments concerning Free Enterprise Fund v. Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB).
While perhaps not as memorable as the “date which shall live in infamy,” this case has been called the most important “separation of powers” case in 20 years by Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the dissenter in the 2-1 decision by the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals that ruled for the PCAOB, prior to the case going to the Supreme Court for review).
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