No QE3 (Yet)

So Bernanke announced a twist operation, shifting the weight of bonds toward the long-end of the maturity spectrum, and a program to roll maturing mortgage backed securities. This means that the Fed’s balance sheet will remain largely unchanged — in other words, very bloated.

But in the immediate term there will be no QE3, no drop on interest in excess reserves, no purchases of equities, commercial paper, foreign debt or any of the wackier theories about Bernanke surprising the economy into recovery. What does this mean for projections on the US economy? Very little — without an artificial updraft of stimulus, and with the ongoing global pressures, it seems inevitable that equities — Bernanke’s metric of choice — will sooner or later end up in the ditch by the wayside.

From the Guardian:

The Fed said the economy faced “significant downside risks”; one of those risks being the volatility in financial markets around the world. US stock markets reacted badly to the move. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed down 283.82 points, or 2.49%, at 1124.84. The Dow has fallen two of the last three trading days following fears that Europe’s financial woes will spread to the US.

As I wrote last month:

Bernanke’s policy since 2007 as Governor of the Federal Reserve has been to pump money to reflate the rest of the economy to catch up with swollen debts acquired during the bubble — debts, especially in real estate, that would otherwise be defaulted upon as post-crash deflation took hold, leading to bank failures, credit retraction and a huge deflationary spiral to the bottom. That was his thesis in 1983 in regard to the 1930s, and he has been particularly lucky (or unlucky) to be able to test his thesis through policy. The real question is — what is supporting asset prices now? Is it real, new organic growth in America? No — growth is low, stagnant, and led by corporate profits, not small business or industrial output. Is it a booming real estate sector? No — confidence and prices are as low as 2009. Is it lower dependence on foreign oil, and a booming energy sector? No — America is more dependent on Arab oil than at any time in history, and the Arabs are wealthier than ever. Is it deeper, wider and burgeoning consumer demand? No — consumer demand for all but the rich is stagnant, burnt out by crippling food and fuel inflation, and rampant unemployment especially among the young.

He will print eventually — perhaps not this week or month, but he will — no matter how clear Wen Jiabao has been that QE3 should not happen.

Some interesting commentary comes from Peter Tchir of TF Market Advisors

Disappointment With The Fed

There are lots of things out there that once they have been done, can never be undone. Ben just disappointed the market for the first time. Whether he knew it or not he failed to beat expectations. He has been so good at managing expectations and using that as a policy tool he lost sight of how far ahead of itself the market had gotten. Everyone expected twist and seriously, what’s a 100 billion in size between friends in this crazy market.

He downgraded the economy but didn’t use that as an excuse to do more. There was no new, ingenious idea. If anything they tried to clarify the commitment to hold rates low til 2013 is dependent on economic conditions remaining weak.  Yet there were still 3 dissenters.

Ben has been a fan of making markets dance to his tune based on expectations. By disappointing some people I expect his ability to keep the market up by talking will be reduced as investors will need to see action rather than being told vaguely that there could be action. That will take time to play out and even I have to admit he gave us something today, just not enough.

The conclusion is very simple: intervention breeds expectation of more intervention, which breeds dependency.

Can Bernanke Print Gold?

This week, I looked at America priced in gold — and noted that America is experiencing gold-denominated deflation. This means that when assets are priced in gold they have consistently fallen in price. Lets re-cap. Here’s the Dow Jones Industrial Average:

Continue reading

Goldman Sachs on Why QE3 is Still Definitely On

From Goldman Sachs:

BOTTOM LINE: Bernanke offers little guidance on near-term policy outlook, but extension of September meeting makes easing at this meeting a bit more likely than before.  We continue to think that further easing via manipulation of the Fed’s balance sheet —either through expansion or restructuring of the average duration of holdings—is likely by early 2012. 

Continue reading

To QE, or Not to QE…

Just a couple of days ago, I made the case that QE3 is coming — even if it is unannounced tomorrow . Indeed, it seems increasingly unlikely — in spite of Goldman’s pleas for a $1 trillion injection — that QE3 will be announced by Bernanke tomorrow. There are a multitude of reasons: the unseasonable austerity climate in Washington, the protestations of Wen Jiabao, inflation fears, and a number of positive economic signs in a national survey from the Chicago Fed.

Bernanke’s academic record suggests more easing. Here he is in 1999 on Japan’s monetary woes:

Franklin D. Roosevelt was elected President of the United States in 1932 with the mandate to get the country out of the Depression. In the end, the most effective actions he took were the same that Japan needs to take—-namely, rehabilitation of the banking system and devaluation of the currency to promote monetary easing. But Roosevelt’s specific policy actions were, I think, less important than his willingness to be aggressive and to experiment—-in short, to do whatever was necessary to get the country moving again. Many of his policies did not work as intended, but in the end FDR deserves great credit for having the courage to abandon failed paradigms and
to do what needed to be done.

Japan is not in a Great Depression by any means, but its economy has operated below potential for nearly a decade. Nor is it by any means clear that recovery is imminent. Policy options exist that could greatly reduce these losses. Why isn’t more happening? To this outsider, at least, Japanese monetary policy seems paralyzed, with a paralysis that is largely self-induced. Most striking is the apparent unwillingness of the monetary 26 authorities to experiment, to try anything that isn’t absolutely guaranteed to work. Perhaps it’s time for some Rooseveltian resolve in Japan.

By all means that would suggest that QE3 is very much on. So we have conflicted signals. It’s at times like these when I bring out Shakespeare:

To be, or not to be, that is the question:
Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles,
And by opposing end them? To die, to sleep,
No more; and by a sleep to say we end
The heart-ache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to: ’tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep;
To sleep, perchance to dream – ay, there’s the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause – there’s the respect
That makes calamity of so long life.

– Hamlet

We all know that Bernanke will not stand and watch as markets, asset prices and confidence tanks. Yet in my view that no amount of quantitative easing alone can get America out of the troubles she is in. Those troubles are non-monetary — they are systemic and infrastructural: military overspending, political corruption, public indebtedness, withering infrastructure, oil dependence, deindustrialisation, the withered remains of multiple bubbles, bailout culture, systemic fragility, and so forth. The real question is when will America tire of the slings and arrows of fortune? When will America take arms against her sea of troubles? And how long will she last on this mortal coil? To die? To sleep? For in that sleep of death what dreams may come…