Posts tagged Ben Bernanke

Ben Bernanke Gets His Reward

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Source: https://mises.org

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Ben Bernanke Gets His Reward

 

6700“Bernanke Enjoys the ‘Fruits of the Free Market,’” or so we’re told in a Reuters headline from March 4 about the former Fed chairman’s 40-minute speech in Abu Dhabi for which he received, ahem, $250,000. In the Reuters author’s defense, he was only quoting a DC lobbyist who was defending the amount, and added, Bernanke “will personally experience supply and demand.”

Well, yes, it’s just supply and demand and all that. No big deal and if you don’t like it, you must have something against markets. Still, it would be nice (and a bigger deal) if these reporters would quote someone outside of the accepted intellectual class of the Boswash corridor so compromised by being among the primary beneficiaries of all the new money Chairman Ben and his comrades created, ex nihilo, when he wasn’t shooting baskets in the Marriner Eccles building. If they did, they might hear some healthy skepticism about these events in which top officials cash in on their “public service” via contacts with the very industries they benefited while in office.

George Stigler explained such paybacks in his capture theory of regulation for which he received (rightly) the Nobel Prize in Economics, although I’d say they are better explained by the phrase, “quid pro and here-you-go!”

westley1

Figure 1: Speech honoraria immediately upon leaving term of office. From CNBC.

Less-beholden observers might pause during Bernanke’s victory lap and note that the dollar has lost almost 30 percent of its value since he joined the Fed in 2002, and that’s only if you accept the lowball metrics used in official CPI statistics. It is likely twice that amount if price inflation is measured in more traditional ways, including forgotten factors such as the full inflation for out-of-pocket expenses or the cost to maintain a constant cost of living. Americans of 1977 may have had to suffer through bad hair and disco music, but at least they didn’t suffer discrepancies between (a) what they experienced the value of the dollars in their pockets to be and (b) what the government said it was. We do.

Yet, today, the Establishment celebrates Bernanke for keeping the funds flowing to those parties it needs to remain in power. But while Paul Krugman wonders where the inflation is, I did some back-of-the-envelope calculations of Bernanke’s speech honorarium. Again using the CPI’s numbers, $250,000 today buys roughly what $193,000 bought in 2002, which would have purchased 603 ounces of gold at the time. Today, those 603 ounces of gold would be worth over $805,000.

The point isn’t that all Fed chairs should contract their post-retirement speeches in gold at the beginning of their term of service, although maybe they should. It’s that payoffs such as this reflect about what you’d expect when a currency receives monopoly protection and legal tender status, neither of which has anything to do with the free market. And notwithstanding the opinions of DC lobbyists, neither does Bernanke’s speech.

It followed the most reckless term of service of any central banker in U.S. history. He printed trillions of dollars to rescue a portion of Wall Street that could have internalized its post-crash losses and financed budget deficits that served to transfer capital to the fringes of military empire and out of reach of domestic workers. He “depression-mongered” the U.S. economy in September 2008 even though that market meltdown paled in comparison to those of 1987 and 2000-2001, thus setting the stage for Depression 2.0, and many billions in stimulus spending, bailouts, and other malinvestments.

Was all this simply an effort to test his faulty academic research of the 1930s? Perhaps partly. But remember that cartelizing factions on Wall Street created the Federal Reserve itself in 1913 for the cartelizing factions on Wall Street. Since those who receive the new money first benefit the most, it stands to reason that those interested parties would shower accolades and a share of the loot on Bernanke in the form of $6,250 per speech minute — and assume Mrs. Yellen is paying attention.

An amusing backdrop to the speech news is the continuing crises affecting Bitcoin and Mt. Gox, the fraudulent and now bankrupt Bitcoin exchange that appears to have lost deposits while itself engaged in fractional reserve banking, something only the protected class of modern banks are allowed to do. Understanding the uncertain future of both the dollar and the country’s power elite in the post 9/11 United States is key to understanding the rise of competing digital currencies (of which Bitcoin is just one). Their demand would never have been as strong had the dollar been inflated relatively less, and had market corrections been allowed relatively more, during the years of the so-called Great Moderation. It is safe to assume that establishment bankers are trying hard to use the Mt.Gox fiasco to demonize any movement toward peer-to-peer banking, which could easily have the effect of making banking as we know it go the way of the buggy whip industry in the nineteenth century.

If it does, one casualty just might be Bernanke’s future honoraria.

In a rational world, being paid $250,000 for this speech would cause many to wonder what is really going on. But such a world has not existed in banking since, perhaps, the 1830s. Until another one comes about, appreciate the irony that Bernanke is being paid in a fiat currency he himself helped devalue, and since his own successor at the Fed promises to continue operating in a Bernankean tradition, he will pay someone to diversify it, quickly, into real assets to protect its purchasing power.

Bernanke’s speech has little to do with supply and demand. It has more to do with being rewarded for extending the road down which we have been kicking the economy can. It’s a road that will eventually dead end.

 


 

About the Author

Christopher_WestleyChristopher Westley

Christopher Westley is an associated scholar at the Mises Institute. He teaches in the College of Commerce and Business Administration at Jacksonville State University. Send him mail. Twitter @DrChrisWestley 

 

 

Image credit: https://mises.org

New Fed Chair Starts With– What Else?–A Forecast

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Source: http://bastiat.mises.org

By Hunter Lewis

New Fed Chair Starts With– What Else?–A Forecast

 

Janet-Yellen-Ben-Bernanke-Swearing-In

 

Janet Yellen celebrated her confirmation as Fed Chairman on January 6 by immediately issuing a carefully hedged prediction: “I am hopeful that the first digit [ of GDP growth] could be 3 rather than 2… and  [that] inflation will move back toward our longer-run goal of 2%.”

Let’s hope she has better luck with her predictions than the retiring Ben Bernanke, who almost always got his wrong.

In 2006, at the zenith of the housing bubble, he told Congress that house prices would continue to rise. In 2007, he testified that failing subprime mortgages would not threaten the economy.

In January 2008, at a luncheon, he told his audience there was no recession on the horizon. As late as July 2008, he insisted that mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, already teetering on the verge of collapse, were “ adequately capitalized [and] in no danger of failing.”

Following the Crash of 2008, Bernanke’s prognostications did not much improve. Nor did Yellen’s, who had also misjudged the housing bubble, and who became Fed vice chairman in 2010.

The two of them got the “recovery” they predicted, but the weakest “recovery” in history. Real income for the average American fell during the recession, but then fell even more after its supposed end, and now hovers at a level last seen in 1989.

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A Spoonful of Sugar

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Source: http://www.europac.net

By Peter Schiff

A Spoonful of Sugar

 

Peter Schiff is the CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Capital

The press has framed Ben Bernanke’s valedictory press conference last week in heroic terms. It’s as if a veteran quarterback engineered a stunning come-from-behind drive in his final game, and graciously bowed out of the game with the ball sitting on the opponent’s one-yard line. In reality, Bernanke has merely completed a five-yard pass from his own end zone, and has left Janet Yellen to come off the bench down by three touchdowns, with no credible deep threats, and very little time left on the clock.

The praise heaped on Bernanke’s swan song stems from the Fed’s success in initiating the long-anticipated (and highly feared) tapering campaign without sparking widespread anxiety. So deftly did the outgoing chairman thread the needle that the market actually powered to fresh all-time highs on the news.

There can be little doubt that the Fed’s announcement was an achievement in rhetorical audacity. In essence, they told us that they would be tightening monetary policy by loosening monetary policy. Surprisingly, the markets swallowed it. I believe the Fed was forced into this exercise in rabbit-pulling because it understood far better than Wall Street cheerleaders that the economy, despite the soaring gains in stocks and real estate, remains dependent on continued stimulus. In my opinion, the seemingly positive economic signs of the past few months are simply the statistical signature of QE itself. Even Friday’s upward revision to third-quarter GDP resulted largely from gains in consumer spending on gasoline and medical bills. Another major driver was increased business inventories fueled perhaps by expectations that QE supplied cheap credit (and the wealth effect of rising asset prices) will continue to encourage consumer spending.

But to many observers, the increasingly optimistic economic headlines we have seen over recent months have not squared with the highly accommodative monetary policy, making the arguments in favor of continued QE untenable. Even taking the taper into account, the Fed is still pursuing a more stimulative policy than it had at the depths of any prior recession. As a result, as far as the headline-grabbing taper decision, the Fed’s hands were essentially tied. But they decided to coat this seemingly bitter pill in an extremely large dollop of honey.

More important than the taper “surprise” was the unusually dovish language that accompanied it. More than it has in any other prior communications, the Fed is now telling the markets that interest rates – its main monetary tool – will remain far more accommodative, for far longer, than anyone previously believed. Abandoning prior commitments to raise rates once unemployment had fallen below 6.5%, the new statement reads that the Fed will keep rates at zero until “well after” the unemployment rate has fallen below that level. No one really knows what the new target unemployment level is, and that is just the way the Fed wants it. On this score, the Fed has not simply moving the goalposts, but has completely dismantled them. With such amorphous language in place, they appear to be hoping that they will never have to face a day of reckoning. This is a similar strategy to that of the legislators on Capitol Hill who want to pretend that America will never have to pay down its debt.

At his press conference Bernanke went beyond the language in the statement by hinting that we should expect consistently paced, similarly sized reductions through much of the year, and that he expects that QE will be fully wound down by the end of 2014. The outgoing Chairman may be writing a check that his successor can’t cash. He also made statements about how monetary policy needs to compensate for “too tight” fiscal policy that is being delivered by the Administration and Capitol Hill. Does the chairman believe that $600 billion annual deficits are simply not enough… even with our supposedly robust recovery? By the time President Obama leaves office, the national debt may well have doubled in size, and he will have added more to the total of all of his predecessors from George Washington through the first five months of George W. Bush’s administration combined! How can Bernanke possibly say that our economic problems result from deficits being too small?

It’s easy to forget in the current euphoria that a majority of market watchers had predicted that the first taper announcement would be made by Janet Yellen in March of 2014. But perhaps with a nod toward his own posterity, Ben Bernanke may have been spurred to do something to restrain his Frankenstein creation before he finally left the lab. But no matter who pulled the trigger first, this initial $10 billion reduction in monthly purchases has convinced many that the QE program will soon become a thing of the past.

But without QE to support the markets, in my opinion, the US economy will likely slow significantly, and the stock and real estate markets will most likely turn sharply downward. [To understand why, pick up a copy of the just-released Collector's Edition of my illustrated intro to economics, How An Economy Grows And Why It Crashes.] If the economic data begins to disappoint, I believe that Janet Yellen, who is much more likely to be concerned with full employment than with price stability, will quickly reverse course and increase the size of the Fed’s monthly purchases. In fact, last week’s Fed statement was careful to avoid any commitments to additional tapering in the future, merely saying that further changes will be data dependent. This means that tapering could stall at $75 billion per month, or it could get smaller, or larger. In other words, Yellen’s hands could not be any freer. If the additional cuts never materialize as expected, look for the Fed to keep the markets convinced that the QE program is in its final chapters. These “Open Mouth Operations” will likely represent the primary tool in the Fed’s arsenal.

Despite the slight decrease in the pace of asset accumulation, I believe that the Fed’s balance sheet will continue to swell alarmingly. As the amount of bonds on their books surpasses the $4 trillion threshold, market watchers need to dispel illusions that the Fed will actually shrink its balance sheet, or even halt its growth. Already fears of such moves have pushed up yields on 10-year Treasuries to multi-year highs. Any actual tightening could push them significantly higher.

We have much higher leverage than what would be expected in a healthy economy, and as a result, the gains in stocks, bonds, and real estate are highly susceptible to rate spikes. If yields move much higher, I feel that the Fed will have to intervene to bring them back down. In other words, the Fed will find it much harder to exit QE than it was to enter.

In the meantime, the Fed’s open-ended commitment to keep rates at zero, despite the apparent recovery, should provide an important clue as to what is really happening. We simply have so much debt that zero is the most we can afford to pay. The problem, of course, is that the longer the Fed waits to raise rates, the more deeply indebted we become. As this mountain of debt grows larger, so too does our need for rates to remain at zero. So if our overly indebted economy cannot afford higher rates now, or in the next year or two, how could we possibly afford them in the future when our total debt-to-GDP may be much larger?

As he left the stage from his final press conference, Ben Bernanke should have left a giant bottle of aspirin on the podium for his successor Janet Yellen. She’s going to need it.

Peter Schiff is the CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Capital, best-selling author and host of syndicated Peter Schiff Show.


 

The Fed’s The Big Story, Not The Budget Deal

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Source: http://www.againstcronycapitalism.org

By

The Fed’s The Big Story, Not The Budget Deal

 

Fed-cc6

 

The real action is coming soon in the Senate when it votes to confirm the new Fed chairman.

 

The Budget deal is disappointing, but small beer. It’s just the same, oft-told tale: we’ll cut spending in the future if you’ll let us spend more now, along with some sneak provisions making it even harder to control spending in the future.

At least legislators have to vote on it. This has helped reveal which Congressional representatives and senators are part of today’s political corruption and which are trying to reform the system. This is useful information to have.

Nevertheless, the real vote to watch is the one coming as early as this week in the Senate: the likely confirmation of Janet Yellen as chairman of the Federal Reserve.

Senators voting for her, especially Republicans, are telling us that they are part of the problem, not the solution. The Fed is the real enabler of all the government’s deficit spending. It could not happen if the Fed refused to underwrite it. And Janet Yellen is the biggest enabler of all, even bigger than the present chairman Ben Bernanke.

Here are all the ways that the Fed supports out-of-control federal spending:

- It keeps interest rates repressed, which allows the government to borrow at virtually no cost. For most of the time since the Crash of 2008, the government has been able to borrow at a rate below the reported rate of inflation, which is itself repressed. This means the government has virtually free money at its disposal.

- You would think that free money would be enough. But the Fed has done more. It has itself bought government debt with newly created money. It has not even been deterred by a law forbidding this.

Here is how it works. The government sells a bond to Wall Street. The Fed then buys the bond back using its newly created money. With this behind the scenes maneuver, the government is not directly buying bonds from itself and is thus not directly breaking the law.

As a result of this neat trick, the Fed now owns more US government debt than either China or Japan. Indeed the amount of US debt owned by the Fed today is greater than the entire debt of the US government at the close of the Clinton administration.

This is such a neat trick, it raises a question. Since the government can just create enough new money to pay for any amount of spending, why bother to borrow at all? Why bother even to tax?

The answer is that an end to borrowing or taxing would make it too obvious what is happening. The government likes to borrow from itself in secret.

- Keeping interest rates artificially repressed and letting the government borrow from itself are enough to enable an unlimited amount of government spending. But the Fed obliges in a third way.

All the new money it creates helps to pump up economic and market bubbles. Those bubbles at least temporarily swell tax revenues.

Have you ever wondered how the Clinton administration managed to balance the federal budget as its second term ended? It was because the dot-com bubble blown up by the Fed was providing billions of dollars of unexpected and unsustainable tax revenue from businesses, individuals, and especially individuals selling stocks and reporting large taxable gains.

Is this too hard on the Fed? Didn’t the Fed’s interest rate repression and flood of newly created money just save us from plunging into a Great Depression during the dark days of 2008-9? The simple answer: no.

The Fed brought us the Crash of 2008 in the first place. It did so by repressing interest rates and flooding us with new money after the dot-com crash, which just brought us the housing bubble.

It accelerated the ensuing crash by supporting and refusing to reconsider a new bank accounting rule that made financial institutions insolvent overnight. This rule, misleadingly labeled “mark-to-market,” actually imposed “mark-to-make believe,” as Steve Forbes dryly noted at the time. The Crash of 2008 ended in March 2009, when the new rule was suspended.

The Fed’s response to the crisis was to double up on policies that got us in trouble in the first place. This is like trying to cure a hangover with more alcohol, and it has not worked any better.

Even by the Fed’s own standards, it has been a failure. As the Crash unfolded, the Fed thought that repressing interest rates would increase borrowing and spending and thus stoke economic “demand.” But depriving savers of interest income actually reduced “demand” more than the additional borrowing and spending.

There is no evidence that the Fed’s radical policies have improved the economy, and much evidence that they have held it back by, among other things, creating so much uncertainty for business owners.

What the Fed’s policies have actually produced so far are new asset class bubbles in bonds and increasingly in stocks. When those bubbles burst, all of us will have to suffer, as we did in 2008, but especially the middle class and the poor. They are the ultimate victims of the Fed’s latest failed attempt at central economic planning.

Image credit: http://www.againstcronycapitalism.org


Hunter Lewis
About Hunter Lewis

Hunter Lewis is co-founder of AgainstCronyCapitalism.org. He is the former CEO of Cambridge Associates and the author of 6 books. His most recent book is Where Keynes Went Wrong. He has served on boards and committees of fifteen not-for-profit organizations, including environmental, teaching, research, and cultural organizations, as well as the World Bank.

 

 

100 Years of Theft with Bill Still ~ Federal Reserve Come to Mind?

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100 Years of Theft with Bill Still

 

12-11-2013 6-50-05 PM

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Published by NextNewsNetwork

 

The Federal Reserve became a hot-topic issue among youth during the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Ron Paul. Young people flocked to the elderly statesman, as he rallied on about an organization nearly 100 years old.

The Federal Reserve went from a organization about which most people knew little, to a front-topic issue. Many people protested in the streets, calling on the government to “abolish the Fed.”

Some politicians have attempted to audit the Reserve, hoping to see how the mechanisms of the group work. They have so far, failed in their attempts to shed light on the institution.

Many government officials, and some economists, say the Federal Reserve is needed to manage the economy. Without it, they predict devastating economic swings, and runaway inflation.

Some critics question that assessment, saying the Reserve creates more problems than it solves.

Bill Still is a writer and political activist. He has written extensively about the Federal Reserve. He is the filmmaker of “The Secret of Oz.” and “Jekyll Island.”

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Ben’s Rocket to Nowhere

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Source: http://www.europac.net

By: Peter Schiff

Ben’s Rocket to Nowhere

 

Peter Schiff is the CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Capital

Herd mentality can be as frustrating as it is inexplicable. Once a crowd starts moving, momentum can be all that matters and clear signs and warnings are often totally ignored. Financial markets are currently following this pattern with respect to the unshakable belief that the Federal Reserve is ready, willing, and most importantly, able, to immediately execute a wind down of its quantitative easing program. Although the release last week of the minutes of the Fed’s last policy meeting did not contain a shred of hard information about the certainty or timing of a “tapering” campaign, most observers read into it definitive proof that the Fed would jump into action by December or March at the latest. The herd is blissfully unaware that the Fed may not be able to reverse, or even slow, the course of QE without immediately sending the economy back into recession.

In an interview this week, outgoing Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke likened the QE program to the first stage in a multiple stage rocket that gets the spacecraft off the ground and accelerates it to the point where it is close to achieving permanent orbit. Like a first stage that has spent its fuel and has become dead weight, Bernanke seems to concede that QE is no longer capable of providing positive thrust, and as a result can now be jettisoned (like a first stage) so that the remainder of the spacecraft/economy can now move higher and faster. The Chairman’s nifty metaphor provides some inspiring visuals, but is completely flawed in just about every way imaginable.

In real rocketry, when the first stage separates, it falls back to earth and is no longer a burden to the remainder of the ship. Subsequent booster rockets (which in economic terms Bernanke imagines would be continuation of zero interest rate policies) build on the gains made by the first stage. But the almost $4 trillion in assets that the Fed has accumulated as a result of the QE program will not simply vaporize into the stratosphere like a discarded rocket engine. In fact it will remain tethered to the rest of the economy with chains of solid lead.

In the process of accumulating the world’s largest cache of Treasuries, the Fed has become the most important player in that market. I believe the Fed can’t stop accumulating and dispose of its inventory without creating major market disruptions that will drag the economy down.

This would be true even if the economic rocket were actually approaching escape velocity. In reality, we are still sitting on the launch pad. By keeping interest rates far below market levels and by channeling newly created dollars directly into the financial markets, the QE program has resulted in major gains in the stock, real estate, and bond markets. Many have argued that all three are currently in bubble territory. Yet to the casual observer, these gains are proof of America’s surging economic vitality.

But things look very different on Main Street, where the employment picture has not kept pace with the rising prices of financial assets. The work force participation rate continues to shrink (recently falling back to levels last seen in 1978),real wages have declined, and since the end of 2009 the temporary workforce has grown at a pace that is 14 times faster than those with permanent jobs. Americans are driving less, vacationing less, and switching to lower quality products and services in order to deal with falling purchasing power. But the herd is closely watching the Fed’s rocket show and does not understand that stocks and housing will likely fall, and bond yields rise steeply, once the QE is removed. The crowd is similarly ignoring the significance of the Chinese announcement.

But while the Fed was gaining much attention by saying nothing, the Chinese made a blockbuster statement that was summarily ignored. Last week, a deputy governor of the People’s Bank of China said that buying foreign exchange reserves was now no longer in China’s national interest. The implication that China may no longer be accumulating U.S. government debt would amount to the “mother of all tapers” and could create a clear and present danger to the American economy. But the story barely rated a mention in the American media.  Over the past decade or so, the People’s Bank of China has been one of the largest buyers of U.S. Treasuries (after various U.S. government entities that are essentially nationalizing U.S. debt). China currently sits on $1 trillion or more in U.S. bond obligations.

So, just as many expect that the #1 buyer of Treasuries (the Fed) will soon begin paring back its purchases, the top foreign holder may cease buying, thereby opening a second front in the taper campaign. This should cause any level-headed observer to conclude that the market for such bonds will fall dramatically, causing severe upward pressure on interest rates. But the possibility is not widely discussed.

Also left out of the discussion is the degree to which remaining private demand for Treasuries is a function of the Fed’s backstop (the Greenspan put, renewed by Bernanke, and expected to be maintained by Yellen). The ultra-low yields currently offered by long-term Treasuries are only acceptable to investors so long as the Fed removes the risk of significant price declines. If the private buyers, the Fed, China (and other central banks that may likely follow China’s lead) refuse to buy Treasuries, who will take on the slack?  Absent the Fed’s backstop, prices will likely have to fall considerably to offer an acceptable risk/reward dynamic to investors. The problem is that any yield high enough to satisfy investors may be too high for the government or the economy to afford.

Little thought seems to be given to how the economy would react to 5% yields on 10 year Treasuries (a modest number in historical standards). The herd assumes that our stronger economy could handle such levels. In reality, 5% rates would likely deeply impact the financial sector, prick the bubbles in housing and stocks, blow a hole in the federal budget, and cause sizable losses in the value of the Fed’s bond holdings. These developments would require the Fed to devise a rocket with even more power than the one it is now thinking of discarding.

That is why when it comes to tapering, the Fed is all bark and no bite. In fact, toward the end of last week, Dennis Lockhart, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said that the Fed “won’t taper its bond-buying until the economy is ready.” He must know that the economy will never be ready. It’s like a drug addict claiming that he’ll stop using when he no longer needs them to stay high.

But the market understands none of this. Instead it is operating under dangerous delusions that are creating sky-high valuations for the latest social media craze, undermining the investment case for gold and other inflation hedges, and encouraging people to ignore growing risks that are hiding in plain sight.

This is not unusual in market history. When the spell is finally broken and markets wake up to reality, we will scratch our heads and wonder how we could ever have been so misguided. 

Peter Schiff is the CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Capital, best-selling author and host of syndicated Peter Schiff Show.

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Related post:

China Announces That It Is Going To Stop Stockpiling U.S. Dollars

 

With all the fancy security features on the new $100 Bill….

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Source: http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com

By Chris Rossini

With all the fancy security features on the new $100 Bill….

 

….not one can stop the biggest counterfeiter on the face of the Earth!

Take a look at the list of security measures on the new $100 bill:

  • Blue 3-D Security Ribbon
  • Raised Printing
  • Serial Numbers
  • Bell Hiding in an Inkwell
  • Portrait Watermark
  • Security Thread
  • New Color
  • American Symbols of Freedom
  • Federal Reserve Bank Indicator
  • Printing Locator

Sadly, it’s missing one HUGE feature:

It’s not helicopter proof.

I put the "T" in Trillion

I put the “T” in Trillion

Follow @ChrisRossini on Twitter

Image credit: http://www.economicpolicyjournal.com

Cutting Through Ben Bernanke’s Double Talk

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Source: http://www.againstcronycapitalism.org

By

Cutting Through Ben Bernanke’s Double Talk

 

Really, it all started 100 years ago.

Really, it all started 100 years ago.

 

You’ll remember that he was going to make the Fed more “transparent.”

 

When Bernanke took the Fed on its latest round of “quantitative easing” (that is, money printing), he said that one of his objectives was to keep interest rates down. When rates nevertheless rose, he said that this was not all bad. When he just announced unexpectedly that the Fed would not “taper” the money printing, he said that the rise in interest rates actually was bad after all and one of the reasons the Fed had decided not to “taper.”

Behind all this double talk, however, there may be another factor of which Mr Bernanke and the Fed are saying nothing. Jim Grant’s Bank Credit Analyst currently reports that foreign central bank holdings of US government securities have been declining at a rate of -3.9% over the past three months and -1.2 over the past six months. It wasn’t very long ago that foreign central banks were printing their own currencies in order to buy large amounts of US government bonds.

It is possible, although not certain, that what is really driving US Fed policy is not the US unemployment rate, but rather a fear that the US bond market might collapse if the US government stopped buying bonds from itself.

For further background on this, please see Free Prices Now! ( Fixing the Economy by Abolishing the Fed.)


Hunter Lewis
About Hunter Lewis

Hunter Lewis is co-founder of AgainstCronyCapitalism.org. He is the former CEO of Cambridge Associates and the author of 6 books. His most recent book is Where Keynes Went Wrong. He has served on boards and committees of fifteen not-for-profit organizations, including environmental, teaching, research, and cultural organizations, as well as the World Bank.

 

Image credit: http://www.againstcronycapitalism.org

 

The U.S. Government Will Borrow Close To 4 Trillion Dollars This Year

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Source: http://theeconomiccollapseblog.com

By Michael Snyder

The U.S. Government Will Borrow Close To 4 Trillion Dollars This Year

 

When you add maturing debt to the new debt that the federal government is accumulating, the total is quite eye catching.  You see, the truth is that the U.S. government must not only borrow enough money to fund government spending for this year, it must also “roll over” existing debt that has reached maturity.  Of course the government never actually pays any of that debt off.  Instead, it essentially takes out new debts to cover the old ones.  So the U.S. government is actually borrowing far more money each year than most Americans realize.

For fiscal year 2013, the U.S. budget deficit will be about $845 billion, but on top of that the government will also have to borrow about 3 trillion dollars to pay off old debt that is maturing.  Overall, the U.S. government will borrow close to 4 trillion dollars this year, and that number will likely be even higher next year.  That is not going to cause a crisis as long as interest rates stay super low, but if interest rates begin to rise substantially, the game will change dramatically.

When the government borrows money, it has to pay it back someday.  Back in the old days, the federal government used to issue lots of debt that would not mature for a very long time.  But in recent years things have been very different

In order to fund the government, the Treasury Department periodically auctions Treasury securities with various maturities ranging from 30-day Treasury bills to 30-year Treasury bonds, with 2-3-5-7-year and 10-year Treasury notes in between. It used to be that the bulk of Treasury borrowing was done in the longer-term instruments with maturities of at least 10 years.
 
In more recent years, however, this trend has shifted more toward shorter-term Treasury securities. There are pros and cons to both strategies. Generally speaking, the shorter maturities are considered more risky since short-term interest rates can vary frequently. Shorter-term maturities obviously have to be rolled over much more often. That raises the risk that there might not be enough buyers when the government needs them.

At this point, the average maturity of outstanding government debt is only 65 months, and only about 10 percent of all Treasury debt matures outside of a decade.

So what does that mean?

It means that the federal government must constantly roll over massive amounts of debt.  Once again, this is not too much of a problem as long as interest rates stay super low, but as John Cochrane pointed out, if rates start rising back to “normal” levels things could get quite hairy very quickly…

Here’s the nightmare scenario: Suppose that four years from now, interest rates rise 5 percent, i.e. back to normal, and the US has $20 trillion outstanding. Interest costs alone will rise $1 trillion (5% of $20 trillion) – doubling already unsustainable deficits! This is what happened to Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Don’t think it can’t happen to us. It’s even more likely, because fear of inflation – which did not hit them, since they are on the Euro – can hit us.

Sadly, those running things appears to be quite clueless.  For example, retiring U.S. Representative Michele Bachmann recently asked Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke why the national debt has remained frozen in place for 56 straight days even though we have been borrowing lots of money.  Bernanke seemed to have no idea how to answer that question

As Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke testified before the House Financial Services Committee Wednesday, Bachmann asked how there could be no increase reported in the total debt when the government is racking up about $4 billion a day in new debt.
 
“After nearly 10 years as the head of the Federal Reserve, Chairman Bernanke could not answer my question today in Financial Services Committee,” Bachmann told WND.
 
She wondered if there’s a political motive.
 
“I asked whether the Treasury Department was cooking the federal government’s books as it was reported that the Feds debt balance sheet remained at $16,699,396,000,000 for 56 days straight, presumably so the Treasury Department wouldn’t officially register that once again the Congress had exceeded its legal borrowing limits.”

For the moment, the federal government is able to recklessly borrow and spend money and investors are rewarding this behavior with super low interest rates.

Unfortunately, this state of affairs is completely and totally unsustainable.  At some point global financial markets will begin to behave rationally, and when that happens it is going to mean a tremendous amount of pain for the United States.

Over the past decade, the U.S. government has added more than 11 trillion dollars to the national debt at a time when the U.S. economy has been steadily declining.  Anyone that thinks that we can continue to pile up more debt like this indefinitely does not know what they are talking about.

The following are some more statistics about the U.S. national debt for you to consider…

-Back in 1980, the U.S. national debt was less than one trillion dollars.  Today, it is rapidly approaching 17 trillion dollars.

-During Obama’s first term, the federal government accumulated more debt than it did under the first 42 U.S presidents combined.

-The U.S. national debt is now more than 23 times larger than it was when Jimmy Carter became president.

-If you started paying off just the new debt that the U.S. has accumulated during the Obama administration at the rate of one dollar per second, it would take more than 184,000 years to pay it off.

-If right this moment you went out and started spending one dollar every single second, it would take you more than 31,000 years to spend one trillion dollars.

-If you were alive when Jesus Christ was born and you spent one million dollars every single day since that point, you still would not have spent one trillion dollars by now.

-Some suggest that “taxing the rich” is the answer.  Well, if Bill Gates gave every single penny of his entire fortune to the U.S. government, it would only cover the U.S. budget deficit for 15 days.

FULL STORY

Tapering the Taper Talk

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Source: http://www.europac.net

Friday, June 21, 2013

Tapering the Taper Talk

 

Peter Schiff is the CEO and Chief Global Strategist of Euro Pacific Capital

As usual the Federal Reserve media reaction machine has fallen for a poorly executed head fake. It has fallen for this move many times in the past, and for its efforts, it has tackled nothing but air. Yet right on cue, it took the bait once more. Somehow the takeaway from Wednesday’s release of the June Fed statement and Chairman Ben Bernanke’s press conference was that the central bank is likely to begin scaling back, or “tapering,” its $85 billion per month quantitative easing program sometime later this year, and that the program may be completely wound down by the middle of next year.

 

Although this scenario is about as likely as an NSA-sponsored ticker tape parade for whistle blower Edward Snowden, all of the market segments reacted as if it were a fait accompli. The stock market – convinced that it will lose the support of ultra-low, long-term interest rates and the added consumer spending that results from a nascent housing bubble – sold off in triple digits. The bond market, sensing that its biggest and busiest customer will be exiting the market, followed a similarly negative trajectory. The sell-off in government and corporate debt pushed yields up to 21 month highs. In foreign exchange markets, the dollar rallied off its four-month lows based on the belief that Fed tightening will support the currency. And lastly, the gold market, sensing that an end of quantitative easing would eliminate the inflationary fears that have partially fueled gold’s spectacular rise, sold off nearly five percent to a new two-and-a-half year low.

 

All of this came as a result of Bernanke’s mild commitments to begin easing back on permanent QE sometime later this year if the economy continued to improve the way he expected. The chairman did not really elaborate on what types of improvements he had seen, or how much farther those unidentified trends would need to go before he would finally pull the trigger. He was however careful to point out that any policy shift, be it for less or more quantitative easing, would not be dependent on incoming data, but on the Fed’s interpretation of that data. By stressing repeatedly that its data goalposts were “thresholds rather than triggers,” the chairman gained further latitude to pursue any stance the Fed chooses regardless of the data.

 

Yet the mere and obvious mention that tapering was even possible, combined with the chairman’s fairly sunny disposition (perhaps caused by the realization that the real mess will likely be his successor’s problem to clean up), was enough to convince the market that the post-QE world was at hand. This conclusion is wrong.

 

Although many haven’t yet realized it, the financial markets are stuck in a “Waiting for Godot” era in which the change in policy that all are straining to see will never in fact arrive. Most fail to grasp the degree to which the “recovery” will stall without the $85 billion per month that the Fed is currently pumping into the economy.

 

What exactly has convinced the Fed that the economy is improving? From what I can tell, the evidence centered on the rise in stock and real estate prices, and the confidence and spending that follow as a result of the wealth effect. But inflated asset prices are completely dependent on QE and are likely to reverse course even before it is removed. And while it is painfully clear that expectations about QE continuance have made a far bigger impact on the stock, bond, and real estate markets than any other economic data points, many must be assuming that this dependency will soon end.

 

Those who hold this belief have naively described QE as the economy’s “training wheels.” (In reality the program is currently our only wheels.) They are convinced that the kindling of QE will inevitably ignite a fire in the larger economy. But the big lumber is still too dampened by debt, government spending, regulation, and high asset prices to catch fire – all we have gotten is smoke instead. A few mirrors supplied by the Fed merely completed the illusion. The larger problem of course is that even though the stimulus is the only wheels, the Fed must remove them anyways as we are cycling toward the edge of a cliff.

 

Although Bernanke dodged the question in his press conference, the Fed has broken the normal market for mortgage backed securities. While it’s true that the Fed only owns 14% of all outstanding MBS (the “small fraction” he referred to in the press conference), it is by far the largest purchaser of newly issued mortgage debt. What would happen to the market if the Fed were no longer buying? There are no longer enough private buyers to soak up the issuance. Those who do remain would certainly expect higher yields if the option of selling to the Fed was no longer on the table. Put bluntly, the Fed is the market right now and has been for years.

 

A clear-eyed look at the likely consequences of a pull-back in QE should cause an abandonment of the optimistic assumptions behind the Fed’s forecast. Interest rates are already rising rapidly based simply on the expectation of tapering. Imagine how high rates would go if the Fed actually tried to sell some of the mortgages it already owns. But the fact is the mere anticipation of such an event has already sent mortgage rates north of 4%, and without a lifeline from the Fed in the form of more QE, those rates will soon exceed 5%. This increase will greatly impact the housing market. Speculative buyers who have lifted the market will become sellers. More foreclosure will hit the market, just as higher home prices and mortgage rates price any remaining legitimate buyers out of the market. Housing prices will fall to new post bubble lows, sinking the phony recovery in the process. The wealth effect will work in reverse: spending and confidence will fall, unemployment will rise, and we will be back in recession even before the Fed begins to taper.

 

In fact, the rise in mortgage rates seen over the last month has already produced pain in the financial world, with banks reporting a rapid decline in refinancing applications. By the time rates hit 5%, the current rally in real estate will have screeched to a halt. With personal income and wage growth essentially stagnant, individual buyers are extremely dependent on the affordability allowed by ultra-low rates. A near 50% increase in mortgage rates, which would result from an increase in rates from 3.25% to 5.0%, would price a great many buyers out of the market. Higher rates would also cool much of the housing demand that has been coming from the private equity funds that have been a factor in pushing up real estate prices in recent years. Falling home prices would likely trigger a new wave of defaults and housing related bankruptcies that plunged the economy into recession five years ago.

 

A similar dynamic would occur in the market for U.S. Treasury debt. Despite Bernanke’s assurances that the Fed is not monetizing the government’s debt, the central bank has been buying nearly 70% of the new issuance in recent years. Already, rates on 10-year treasury debt have creeped up by more than 50% in less than two months to over 2.5%. Any actual decrease or cessation in buying – let alone the selling that would be needed to unwind the Fed’s multi-trillion dollar balance sheet – would place the Treasury market under extreme pressure. Since low rates are the life blood of our borrow and spend economy, it is highly likely that higher rates will lead directly to lower stock prices, lower GDP growth, and higher unemployment. Since rising asset prices and the confidence and spending they produce is the basis for Bernanke’s rosy forecast, new lows in house prices and a bear market in stocks will likely reverse those forecasts on a dime.

 

Lost on almost everyone is the effect higher interest rates and a slowing economy will have on federal budget deficits. As unemployment rises, tax revenues will fall and expenditures will rise. In addition, rising rates will not only make it more expensive for the Fed to finance larger deficits, it will also make it more expensive to refinance maturing debts. Furthermore, the profit checks Fannie and Freddie have been paying the Treasury will turn into bills for losses, as a new wave of foreclosures comes tumbling in.

 

It’s fascinating how the goal posts have moved quickly on the Fed’s playing field. Months ago the conversation focused on the “exit strategy” it would use to unwind the trillions in bonds and mortgages that it had accumulated over the last few years. Despite apparent improvements in the economy, those discussions have given way to the more modest expectations for the “tapering” of QE. I believe that we should really be expecting a “tapering” of the tapering conversations.

 

As a result, I expect that the Fed will continue to pantomime that an eventual Exit Strategy is preparing for a grand entrance, even as their timeline and decision criteria become ever more ambiguous. In truth, I believe that the Fed’s next big announcement will be to increase, not diminish QE. After all, Bernanke made clear in his press conference that if the economy does not perform up to his expectations, he will simply do more of what has already failed.

 

Of course, when the Fed is forced to make this concession, it should be obvious to a critical mass that the recovery is a sham. Investors will realize that years of QE have only exacerbated the problems it was meant to solve. When the grim reality of QE infinity sets in, the dollar will drop, gold will climb, and the real crash will finally be upon us. Buckle up.

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