Ben Bernanke

QE3: A Nice Kickback For Bankers

Merely two weeks after Ben Bernanke announced one more round of quantitative easing (QE3), the results are already becoming apparent. And once again, it shows how the culture of “too big to fail” is both immoral and economically devastating.

The immorality of QE3 can be summarized by this quote, from Businessweek: “It’s very good to be a mortgage originator right now,”

Gosh, I wonder why? Is it perhaps because QE3 is benefiting banks/bankers…to the detriment of everyone else? But I thought our president wanted the top 1% to “pay their fair share”! So how do bankers and loan originators end up cashing in on yet another bailout? Yes, I realize I shouldn’t be shocked by a politician saying one thing…and doing the opposite. But I am.

Since images often speak louder than words, here’s an illustration of why it’s “…very good to be a mortgage originator right now”.

This is what Bernanke imagines QE3 is doing:

And here is what is ACTUALLY happening:

I rest my case.

Romney Advisor: Consider Keeping Ben Bernanke

Ben Bernanke

One of Mitt Romney’s top advisors said recently that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke needs to “get every consideration” for another term when his current term expires in 2014. When I saw that headline, I had to go read (and re-read) it for myself. Did he really say that?

Yes. Yes, he did.

I take a little comfort in the fact that Romney has previously said that Bernanke wouldn’t likely be returning as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve if he’s elected president. But Glenn Hubbard (no, not this guy) is a top advisor to Romney, and in that YouTube video I just linked to, one of the possible nominees for Bernanke’s job was Hubbard.

While I’m not very concerned about Romney keeping Bernanke around (he’s been a failure under Bush and Obama…it’s time for him to go), the thought that his replacement could be somebody who thinks Bernanke should be considered for another term scares me.

It’s worth mentioning that Hubbard and Bernanke are friends and have been for a long time, so there’s a chance that he’s just trying to be nice and not call his friend a complete miserable failure in the news. But there’s also the chance that he’d continue in Bernanke’s dollar-destroying ways.

A candid moment from a member of the FOMC

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke just announced Operation Twist, a new combat operation that will supposedly fix our market woes. Supposedly. (Hey, pass the vodka, will you? I need a drink before I listen to this guy.)

I am not a financial markets expert, and I have not heard that much on the actual details of Operation Twist, but, courtesy of CNN, here’s a brief explanation:

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) — The Federal Reserve announced “Operation Twist” Wednesday, a widely expected stimulus move reviving a policy from the 1960s.

The policy involves selling $400 billion in short-term Treasuries in exchange for the same amount of longer-term bonds, starting in October and ending in June 2012.

 

While the move does not mean the Fed will pump additional money into the economy, it is designed to lower yields on long-term bonds, while keeping short-term rates little changed.

The intent is to thereby push down interest rates on everything from mortgages to business loans, giving consumers and companies an additional incentive to borrow and spend money.

So basically, they’re selling bonds and buying bonds. Nothing exactly Earth shattering here. And definitely not anything that will get us out of this rut.

Interestingly, some members of the FOMC agree with my assessment, and one of them had a speech about it. Mr. Richard W. Fisher, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, had this to say about recent monetary policy, using a Nordic weather station as a metaphor:

GOP Presidential Power Rankings

The race for the GOP nomination for president has really heated up, but there are rumblings that Rep. Paul Ryan and Sarah Palin may be preparing to jump in, candidacies that would dramatically shake up the field. But at least right now, it seems like this is a three way race for the nomination between Mitt Romney, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann. Polls seem to bear out that conclusion as well, though no one seems to really be the frontrunner.

Here is a look at the current power rankings in the GOP field (and yes, we’ve excluded Thad McCotter on purpose):

Mitt Romney (down): If there was ever a question that Romney was on shaky ground as the frontrunner in the GOP field, it has been answered with Rick Perry. That being said, only one poll shows Romney down to Perry; so it’s far too early to say that that Romney has no path to the nomination. Romney still has plenty of arguments for Republicans to get behind him, including that he is the only candidate in the field that really challenges President Obama. However, the worst thing that could happen to Romney would be a Paul Ryan candidacy.

Coming to Expect the Unexpected

Shortly after the 2008 presidential election, historian Michael Bechloss gushed with praise for President-Elect Barack Obama, declaring him to be “probably the smartest guy ever to become President”, and raving that his IQ is “off the charts”. When interviewer Don Imus inquired as to what Obama’s IQ is, Bechloss admitted that he did not know, but that did not keep him from gushing effusive praise. We are left to take a historian’s word for it, because Obama has steadfastly refused to release his college transcripts, and his policies while in office certainly do not lend credence to the claims of his brilliance. In fact, if we had to judge the president by the effectiveness of his policies, Obama would be the functional equivalent not of the class valedictorian, but of that weird kid that sat in the corner and ate paste while talking to himself.

On matters of the economy, the president and his advisors seem to be particularly clueless. Consider some statements from the administration of late:

In a recent video clip making the rounds, Obama responds to a question about the near $1 trillion “stimulus” package and its effect on the economy by laughing and then declaring “ ‘Shovel-ready’ was not as shovel-ready as we expected.” This is, you will recall, the same stimulus package that Obama demanded must be passed immediately if we were to stem the possibility of another Great Depression. We were promised (by Christina Romer, the first chairman of Obama’s Council of Economic Advisors) that if we passed it, unemployment would stay below 8%. Well, we DID pass it, and we have been rewarded with unemployment levels between 9-10+% for well over two years. Now, we have high unemployment AND staggering quantities of additional debt crippling the economy.

Is This The Climax Yet?

I particularly enjoyed this non sequitur today in my inbox, from one of my favorite news providers, BusinessInsider.com:

“The G20 has agreed to pursue programs of austerity while also preserving and enhancing the recovery.”

When I clicked on the link, I got the real headline:

“G20 Officially Reveals Its Total Pointlessness.”

Yes, the politicians are stymied. The only good thing going for them is that they are finding lots of occasions to practice their talent for talking out of both sides of their mouth. But the straight-talking intellectual academics aren’t faring much better.

A few blogs ago, I described this slow-motion movie we’re all watching as this recession unfolds. The movie’s climax will approach when the Federal Reserve finds itself in front of a dilemma: They must withdraw central bank assistance to maintain credibility in the U.S. bond and dollar, but when is the right time to begin?

Their problem is that no one seems to know. Bernanke and his colleagues are reportedly hunkered down as I write, trying to figure out how to handle what is looking increasingly like another slowdown, or to be precise the second V in the W. But this is not what they expected to happen. This is not AT ALL what they expected to happen.

Geithner Scaring Public Into Support of Bernanke

Treasury secretary Timothy Geithner has been using what I would call “scare tactics” to improve Ben Bernanke’s renomination as the head of the Federal Reserve.

From Politico:

Asked about possible market reaction to a defeat, Geithner said: “I think the markets would view that as a very troubling thing to the economy as a whole. But, as I said, I don’t think they should be uncertain. I think they should be confident because we are very confident he will be reconfirmed.”

He appears confident, as he should be, that Bernanke will get the votes needed for confirmation. But what is troubling about this is that there is a very subtle threat that the markets will react negatively if he is not confirmed.

What the American public should be concerned about is the fact that a central bank has monopoly power over money in the United States. Besides that, they are private and unaccountable to the American public. Yet we still see people arguing that they should not even be audited! Unfortunately for Geithner and the Fed-backers, they can’t threaten that the market will react negatively to what is uncovered in the Fed audit. That would just prove the audit should have occurred; the market needs correction from the intervention of the Federal Reserve.

When Magic Bullets Fail

I recently read an article written by former Fed economist Richard Alford over at Naked Capitalism. He focused his criticism on the zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) currently deployed by the Fed under the watch of Chairman Ben Bernanke. There has been increasing noise surrounding ZIRP and more mainstream suggestions that interest rates were too low for too long between 2001 and 2006.

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Alford’s article gets into quite a bit of detail, but it is worth a read if you enjoy geeky economics stuff. Mainstream macroeconomists believe that the economy can be explained and managed with mathematical formulas. In fact, the formulas are really quite simple and do not capture the dynamics of the millions of “irrational” actors therein. One favorite is the Taylor rule which suggests a target for the Fed funds rate - the key interest rate set by the central bank. Alford points to a Taylor op-ed which states that rates were too low from 2002-2005.

Bernanke has suggested that rates necessarily had to be low (and must stay low) to fend off the threat of deflation. When analyzing Bernanke’s definition of deflation, however, Alford suggests deflation was never a threat. Thus, interest rates were lower than they “should have been” for no good reason.

Bernanke’s Moment of Truth

Once again, Bernanke is the object of my funny bone. The day is coming soon when his mettle will be tested.

Bernanke

But Ben, a Bubble has No National Boundaries

Ben Bernanke is showing himself to be more of a Big-Government politician than a scientist. In his latest speech, he has tried to defend the actions of his predecessors by claiming that their easy-money monetary policy only holds five percent of the responsibility for the high real estate prices that ignited the boom-and-bust bubble that almost broke the back of the global economy.

According to his analysis, 30 percent of the responsibility goes to what he has been calling the “global savings glut.” The other 65 percent, he says, belongs to the inferior standards of the US mortgage market. Therefore, his argument seems to be saying that if we cure the standards we cure the problem.

He attempts to prove his point by demonstrating through charts that other countries had even looser monetary policy than the US, and yet they did not show a worse real estate boom; therefore, he concludes, loose monetary policy does not cause bubbles.

This sounds convincing, coming as it does from the highest-placed economic academician in the land. But his logic is flawed.

There are two problems with his argument. First, you cannot isolate these particular variables as he has done. To do so is the equivalent of saying Michael Phelps eats a lot, and he is not obese, therefore a high-calorie diet does not cause obesity. (Michael Phelps is the Olympic medalist swimmer who purportedly eats around 8,000-10,000 calories a day. A scientist could probably prove that he also spends almost 8,000-10,000 calories a day in his sports activities.)


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