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Real Crash 2014
Ben Bernanke
Posted by Peter Schiff on 01/31/2014 at 11:28 AM

The idea that Ben Bernanke deserves credit for saving the nation from an economic catastrophe omits two possibilities: that we haven't really recovered from anything, and that his policies have laid the foundation for even bigger problems ahead.

The actions taken by the Bernanke Fed have no precedent, and he has admitted to flying blind. But the bond buying (known as quantitative easing, or QE for short) that created feel-good asset bubbles in stocks, bonds and real estate was the easy part. To complete the process, the Fed must conjure an exit strategy to dispose of the nearly $4 trillion of assets that it now holds without puncturing any of the bubbles that its buying spree created.

Bernanke is like a novice airline pilot who has managed to take off and fly steady. The passengers celebrate the smooth ride, but he (or, more accurately, Janet Yellen) still has to land the plane. On that front the Fed remains clueless.

QE has provided the ultra-low interest rates that juice corporate profits, push up stock prices and lower the cost of debt finance for highly leveraged corporations, overstretched home owners and a hopelessly indebted federal government. These stimulants masquerade as real economic heath but have created a dangerous dependency.

The Fed is the biggest buyer of mortgages and Treasury debt, yet no one questions the likely outcome when the Fed stops buying. With no entity capable of matching the Fed's buying power, interest rates will surely rise. But our bubble-dependent economy can no longer tolerate such headwinds.

While many speak about how Bernanke engineered the apparent turnaround, in reality he only had one tool, the printing press. And when the going got rough, Ben started printing … and printing.

He was lucky that the inflation he unleashed pushed up asset prices far more noticeably than it did consumer prices. But eventually, the inflation the Fed so eagerly seeks will hit consumers hard.

When it does, Bernanke's successor will be powerless to fight it without sparking a financial crisis that is even more severe than the one he supposedly defeated.



Tags:  Ben Bernankequantitative easing
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The Long And The Short Of Gold Investing
Posted by Peter Schiff on 01/02/2014 at 10:43 AM

There are two types of gold investors: those trying to make money on short-term market timing and those looking for long-term asset preservation. It was the fear-driven trading of the former that helped gold break $1900 in 2011, and for good reason - stormy markets steer investors to safe havens.

But gold's fortune has shifted in the past two years, and finishing 2013 down 28% seems to have sealed its fate - at least in the eyes of the short-term speculators. In reality, the same forces that are stabilizing stocks and suppressing gold are also the fundamental reasons long-term investors have been buying gold since the turn of the new millennium. The so-called recovery we're now experiencing is just a lull in a storm that hasn't yet abated. 

Losing Touch With Reality

From the fiscal cliff at the beginning of the year to the budget stalemate and government shutdown in the fall, the US was not exactly a model of financial stability in 2013. Yet with each of these stories, the markets shrugged off any large dips and went on to reach record high after record high. The stock market exceeded most expectations - the S&P and Dow rallied 29.6% and 26.5% respectively, with the volatility index staying remarkably low.

The official explanation for this market behavior is that the economy really is improving. A growing GDP and improving jobless rate are the leading economic indicators that support this conclusion. 

However, the real reason behind 2013's stability in spite of mixed economic news was the extremely accommodating Federal Reserve policy. Markets have become hyper-aware of this Bernanke Put over the course of the year.

Compare the markets' taper tantrums earlier in the year to their reaction to the Fed's December announcement of "taper-lite."

In both June and August, with the mere talk of tapering, the S&P and Dow tumbled. The assumption was that when the Fed started tapering their Quantitative Easing (QE) program, interest rates would also start to rise. Overvalued stocks plunged in preparation for a higher interest rate environment.

However, this December, when the Fed set an official January date for tapering, these indices did not drop as they had before, but immediately jumped to new highs. Why the different reaction to essentially the same news?

Because the Fed's December announcement was not the same.

Normal No Longer Means Healthy

The key element of Bernanke's "taper-lite" was not the $10 billion-per-month cut to QE, but the explicit commitment to maintain low interest rates for the foreseeable future. Bernanke basically guaranteed the fed funds rate would remain near 0% for at least a couple more years.

This commitment to artificially suppressed interest rates ruins the charade that the economy is getting healthier. Why on earth does a healthy economy need the support of free money?

The short-term data may appear good on its face, but people are waking up to the bigger picture of this so-called recovery - namely that it isn't a recovery at all.

It's well-recognized now that most new jobs are low-wage, low-skilled placements. Often these are part-time or temporary retail or restaurant positions. This may be why both median income and the percentage of the population employed remain well below pre-crisis levels. The jobless rate has only improved because people have simply given up trying to find employment.

Meanwhile, the latest data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis shows that in the last months of 2013, personal spending rose more than personal income, while the savings rate dropped. In other words, we're back to digging the hole that caused the Panic of '08.

This is one of the longest and slowest recoveries the US has ever experienced, but the mantra of Wall Street maintains that all is well because the stock market is up. We're supposedly returning to normal.

The truth is that "normal" no longer means "healthy" when it comes to the economic stability of the United States. It really means that we are back to where we were prior to the Panic of '08. 

Selective Memory

Only a short-term mindset could ignore the parallels between our economy today and ten years ago. Heading into 2004, the headlines sounded almost identical to today's, with talk of an improving economy that still suffered from less-than-optimal employment numbers.

More importantly, it was in 2003 that Alan Greenspan cut the fed funds rate to 1% - the lowest it had been for more than 40 years.

We all know how that story ended. Most economists agree that the interest rate policy of Greenspan's Fed spurred the irresponsible lending practices and speculation that drove the US into a housing crash and then a financial meltdown.

Yet here we are again, with the fed funds rate at record low levels. Nothing has changed in ten years - the supposed recovery we're experiencing now is simply a product of this endless cheap money.

A Sober Analysis

In times like these, long-term gold investors feel like the designated drivers in the corner of a frat party. It might seem like we're missing the fun, but we must remember that we're playing a different game than the short-term speculators.

 Our drunken friends have had some cheap thrills in 2013, but this stock market growth rests on an unstable foundation of artificial stimulus and cheap money. We are more interested in waking up without a hangover, a wrecked car, or worse. The longer interest rates remain suppressed, the crazier markets will behave when rates rise. And if Greenspan's one year at 1% rates helped trigger the crash we saw in '08, imagine imagine what three years and counting of Bernanke's/Yellen's 0% rates portends for the next crash.

Peter Schiff is Chairman ofEuro Pacific Precious Metals, a gold and silver dealer selling reputable, well-known bullion coins and bars at competitive prices. 

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Tags:  Ben Bernankefederal reservegold
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A Spoonful of Sugar
Posted by Peter Schiff on 12/24/2013 at 10:52 AM
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.  

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Tags:  Ben BernankeJanet Yellen
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Ben's Rocket to Nowhere
Posted by Peter Schiff on 11/26/2013 at 7:44 PM

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. How this notion became so deeply entrenched is a mystery, but the stampede it has sparked is getting more violent, and irrational, by the day.

The release last week of the minutes of the October Fed policy meeting was a case study in dangerous collective delusion. Although the report 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.

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. 

Instead, the current environment is all about the imminent Fed taper: the process of winding down the Fed's monthly purchases of $85 billion of treasury debt and mortgage-backed securities. However, the crowd fails to grasp that the Fed has embarked on an impossible mission. 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.

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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Tags:  Ben Bernankequantitative easing
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Tapering The Taper Talk
Posted by Peter Schiff on 06/21/2013 at 12:52 PM

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.

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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Tags:  Ben Bernankeeconomyfederal reservehousinginflationquantitative easing
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The Fed's Tightening Pipe Dream
Posted by Peter Schiff on 03/01/2013 at 1:46 PM
Testifying before the US Senate this past Tuesday, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke made an extraordinary claim about its bloated balance sheet: "We could exit without ever selling by letting it run off." What Bernanke means here is that the Fed could simply hold its Treasuries and agency bonds until they mature, at which point the government would then be forced to pay the Fed back the principal amount. Through this process, the Fed's unprecedented and inflationary position will be gradually and placidly unwound. 

Growing rumors last month of a potential "tightening" of monetary policy - seemingly confirmed by the Fed minutes released on Feb. 20th - have spooked the precious metals markets, leading to a 5.8% correction in gold and 10.2% in silver.

However, these fears are preposterous on two counts.

First, the Fed just spent the past year and a half extending the maturities of its entire portfolio. That was the entire purpose of Operation Twist. The average maturity of the entire portfolio is now over 10 years. That means any wind-down using the strategy Bernanke outlined would play out over the course of decades - not months or years. 

Fortunately for hard asset investors, it is unlikely to play out at all. 

The second reason these fears are unfounded is that there is no exit strategy. Listening to Bernanke's testimony, it was clear that here was a man simply speculating about when an exit might be undertaken - or perhaps ifit would ever be taken. Senator Corker from Tennessee accused Bernanke during the hearing of being "the biggest dove since World War II." "I think it's something you're rather proud of," the Senator continued. The Chairman's response to the charge of recklessly endangering the nation's currency? "In some respects, I am." 

The Fed Chairman has been talking about tightening for some time. In 2010, he said, "As the expansion matures, the Federal Reserve will need to begin to tighten monetary conditions to prevent the development of inflationary pressures."

Back then, the same mainstream analysts were predicting recovery and a reversal of quantitative easing (QE). Instead, we have subsequently seen QE2, Operation Twist, and now QE3 to eternity.

While these mainstream commentators are at best guessing as to why or when the Fed might reverse course, I understand that it is extremely unlikely to do so for the foreseeable future. In fact, I've bet my net worth on it.

There is no exit strategy because the results of the Fed withdrawing its artificial support would be disastrous for the US Treasury and in the short-term, the US economy. 

The Fed is expected to buy nearly 90% of new Treasury bonds in 2013, according to Bloomberg. This is a tremendous subsidy that has kept 10-year Treasury yields below 1.95% on average this year so far. Last year, with 10-year yields averaging 1.8%, the Treasury spent $360 billion on interest payments alone. That represented nearly 10% of all expenditures.

Let's assume a Fed tightening causes these rates to triple - not unreasonable for a government facing over 100% debt-to-GDP. If these rates triple by 2015, and another $2 trillion or so is added to the debt, then interest would make up over 30% of annual federal expenditures. Just interest. Then, there are principal repayments, Medicare/Medicaid, Social Security, the Armed Forces, and all the other entitlements for which the Treasury is responsible. Is Washington going to default on our creditors, our seniors, or our men and women in uniform?

I believe these assumptions are still rosy compared to what might actually happen if the Fed were to withdraw support. As I outlined in my January Gold Letter, the US sovereign debt market is a house of cards in which the Fed, foreign creditors, and domestic investors each play a part. If the Fed were to signal that creditors might face haircuts, then the reaction could be swift to the downside. If rates went above 10%, as they have in Greece, then over half of the federal budget would be committed to interest payments alone.

But that's not all. Higher interest rates would cause the shaky housing market to take another nosedive. Few Americans are in a position to buy a $300K house at 10+% interest. Rather, prices would have to decline to levels affordable for cash buyers and those willing and able to take out high-interest mortgages. That might mean another 50% decline or more, in real terms.

With housing taking a second bath, we can expect the banks not to be far behind. That sector remains bloated and dependent on various subsidies from the Fed. With loan rates higher than their customers can afford, banks would fail at a rate higher than 2007-8. This would trigger another round of bailouts from the Treasury; but without Fed assistance, where will the funds come from?

If there isn't a bailout, the major money-center banks would collapse, crippling Wall Street's reputation as the global financial center. The US dollar's reserve status might then be abandoned once and for all.

Quickly, one can see how the Fed's money-printing is the mask holding this charade together.

To see in real time what happens when the mask is pulled off, look to the Mediterranean. Greece has seen the Golden Dawn neo-nazi party win 7% of seats in the last two elections. Italy, meanwhile, just saw a comedian with no political background grab 25% of its parliament in a satirical candidacy. Street protests, unemployment, and other signs of instability are rampant. The protestors are not learning a tough lesson about the consequences of profligate spending; instead, they're simply angry that the money has stopped flowing.

No one in Washington - not least Ben Bernanke - has any intention of setting off a similar episode in the US. Yet, that's exactly what a tightening of monetary policy would do. So, at least as long as the CPI numbers can be fudged to make inflation appear "contained," the Fed is going to keep filling the punch bowl. 

Returning to the latest Fed minutes that have hard asset investors so upset, it is telling that while there was some discussion of the dangers of money-printing, only one of twelve governors actually voted against continuing current policies. With no concrete actions being taken and an overwhelming majority still in favor of current policies, it seems gold bears are making much ado about nothing.

As investors realize this, they will once again put their pedals to the precious metals.

Peter Schiff is CEO ofEuro Pacific Precious Metals, a gold and silver dealer selling reputable, well-known bullion coins and bars at competitive prices. 

Click here for a free subscription to Peter Schiff's Gold Letter, a monthly newsletter featuring the latest gold and silver market analysis from Peter Schiff, Casey Research, and other leading experts. 

And now, investors can stay up-to-the-minute on precious metals news and Peter's latest thoughts by visiting Peter Schiff's Official Gold Blog.



Tags:  Ben Bernankefederal reserveprecious metalsQE
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Messing With The Bull
Posted by Peter Schiff on 02/08/2013 at 11:45 AM

With the announcement this week of its massive $5 billion lawsuit against ratings agency Standard & Poor's, the Federal Government took a bold step to squelch any remaining independence of thought or action in the financial services industry. Given the circumstances and timing of the suit, can there be any doubt that S&P is paying the price for the August 2011 removal of its AAA rating on U.S. Treasury debt? In retaliation for the unpardonable sin of questioning the U.S. Treasury's credit worthiness, the Obama Administration is sending a loud and clear message to Wall Street: mess with the bull and get the horns. Shockingly, the blatant selectivity of the prosecution, however, has failed to ignite a backlash. But as the move violates both the spirit of the Constitution and the letter of the law in so many ways, I can't help but look at it as a sea change in the nature of our governance. Call it Lincoln with a heavy dose of Putin.   

Given the nature of the U.S. economy during the housing mania of the last decade, charging S&P with fraud is like handing out a speeding ticket at the Indy 500. Like nearly every other mainstream financial firm in the world at the time, S&P believed that the U.S. economy rested on a solid foundation of accumulated housing wealth. By 2006, the housing market was closing out one of its best decades in memory. Developers, speculators, financiers, real estate agents, bankers and even ordinary Americans had become charmed by the easy wealth of serial home purchases. The party had been orchestrated by a cadre of politicians and regulators who wanted to keep the party going and take credit for the good times.

To a degree that few Americans understand even to this day, it was not irresponsible lending, bad ratings, or excess greed that finally doomed the mortgage market, it was the simple fact that national home prices started falling. As long as prices stayed high, refinancing would have been open to borrowers, and defaults would have been manageable. Among the hordes of analysts, academics, and reporters who covered the market there were few if any standing who believed that national home prices could fall of a cliff. I know this to be true because I spent many years trying, unsuccessfully, to warn them.

From 2005 to 2008, I made scores of appearances on national television and at investment conferences around the country in which I stated that national home prices were set to decline by at least 30% and that the resulting mortgage defaults would devastate the financial sector and bring down the economy. I may have just as well been arguing that pink unicorns were about to resurrect the Soviet Union. At the 2006 Western Regional Mortgage Bankers conference I told attendees that many highly rated mortgage-backed securities, including some rated AAA, would become worthless. My debate opponent claimed that such predictions only come to pass if "an atomic bomb landed on either Los Angeles, Chicago, or New York!"

The idea that home prices could decline at all, let alone by 30% was considered beyond serious consideration. The models used by the banks, investors, government agencies, academics, and rating agencies predicted that national home prices would continue to rise, or at least stay stable. They were ALL wrong. Calls for even a 5% decline would have put S&P in the extreme minority. I know because I WAS that extreme minority and would have noticed any company joining me.   Absent such opinions, the analyses put out by S&P, Moody's, and Fitch were justifiable. So why pick on S&P? Perhaps because the other two agencies never downgraded U.S. government debt.

As proof of S&P's institutional culpability, the Justice Department provided a few e-mails sent by S&P analysts during the final stages of the housing bubble. The messages contain cynical awareness that the mortgage market was built on a house of cards. So what? To avoid guilt would S&P have to prove 100% agreement among all employees? The company readily admits that it reached its opinions through a consensus and that feelings within the firm varied.  Opinions are, by definition, nuanced and varied. During the years before the crash I received emails from many people who agreed with me but who said that their friends and co-workers believed that they "were nuts" for harboring such fears. I lost count of how many people told me that  I was nuts. Many of these e-mails could have come from S&P analysts.  

At most, S&P was guilty of a culture of complacency and group think. Ironically that spirit was engendered by the bizarre regulatory environment created for ratings agencies by the government itself. In 1973, in order to "protect" investors from unregulated markets, the SEC designated certain ratings firms as "Nationally Recognized Statistical Ratings Organizations." Thereafter, only bonds rated by sanctioned firms could be purchased by pension funds and federally insured banks. Before that time the ratings agencies were paid for their advice by bond investors. As the rule change limited the abilities of investors to choose who to ask, the ratings firms began charging bond issuers instead. This arrangement meant that interests of investors would be subordinated. In any event, the law may have mandated who could perform ratings, but it did not require anyone to take them seriously. Any decent portfolio manager recognized this conflict of interest and performed their own due diligence.

The problem was when it came to housing mortgage bond buyers who were just as clueless as the ratings agencies.  In fact, even those few buyers who knew the party would end badly, decided for themselves to keep dancing until the music stopped. It's completely hypocritical to sue the band after-the fact. Given that the SEC required investors to use these ratings agencies, should not the Justice Department be suing them instead?

The 2011 downgrade came as the government passed a weak and inconclusive patch to the debt ceiling crisis. Now, a year and a half later, we see that they have slithered out of that poorly constructed straight jacket. With the new debt piling up faster than ever, and the government showing itself to be blatantly incapable of making hard choices, it should be clear to anyone with a half semester of accounting that the Treasury debt should be downgraded. Yes the government has a printing press, but that only means that the value of the bonds will disappear through inflation rather than default. S&P was far too lenient. 

Smaller ratings agency Egan Jones (which never had the official sanction of S&P) issued harsher reports about government debt, and they have also been duly punished for their candor. In 2011 the other major ratings agency, Moody's, argued that the fiscal cliff deal agreed to by Congress and the President improved the country's fiscal position and forestalled any need to downgrade Treasury debt. However, since we never actually went over that conveniently erected fiscal cliff, why has Moody's not responded with a downgrade? Perhaps they want to stay out of court? 

Let's hope that it is still possible to get a fair hearing in a U.S. court of law, even when squaring off against the biggest and most powerful opponent the world has ever known. But even if S&P wins, we have all already lost. If it survives it will only do so after incurring huge legal bills and seeing its share price slashed. It's a foregone conclusion that no more downgrades will be coming.    

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

Subscribe to Euro Pacific's Weekly Digest: Receive all commentaries by Peter Schiff, John Browne, and other Euro Pacific commentators delivered to your inbox every Monday! 

And be sure to order a copy of Peter Schiff's recently released NY Times Best Seller, The Real Crash: America's Coming Bankruptcy - How to Save Yourself and Your Country



Tags:  Ben BernankeStandard and Poortreasury
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The Bernanke Shock
Posted by Peter Schiff on 02/04/2013 at 8:25 AM

The financial world was shocked this month by a demand from Germany's Bundesbank to repatriate a large portion of its gold reserves held abroad. By 2020, Germany wants 50% of its total gold reserves back in Frankfurt - including 300 tons from the Federal Reserve. The Bundesbank's announcement comes just three months after the Fed refused to submit to an audit of its holdings on Germany's behalf. One cannot help but wonder if the refusal triggered the demand. 

Either way, Germany appears to be waking up to a reality for which central banks around the world have been preparing: the dollar is no longer the world's safe-haven asset and the US government is no longer a trustworthy banker for foreign nations. It looks like their fears are well-grounded, given the Fed's seeming inability to return what is legally Germany's gold in a timely manner. Germany is a developed and powerful nation with the second largest gold reserves in the world. If they can't rely on Washington to keep its promises, who can?

Where is Germany's Gold?

The impact of Germany's repatriation on the dollar revolves around an unanswered question: why will it take seven years to complete the transfer?

The popular explanation is that the Fed has already rehypothecated all of its gold holdings in the name of other countries. That is, the same mound of bullion is earmarked as collateral for a host of different lenders. Since the Fed depends on a fractional-reserve banking system for its very existence, it would not come as a surprise that it has become a fractional-reserve bank itself. If so, then perhaps Germany politely asked for a seven-year timeline in order to allow the Fed to save face, and to prevent other depositors from clamoring for their own gold back - a 'run' on the Fed.

Now, the Fed can always print more dollars and buy gold on the open market to make up for any shortfall, but such a move could substantially increase the price of gold. The last thing the Fed needs is another gold price spike reminding the world of the dollar's decline.

Speculation Aside

None of these theories are substantiated, but no matter how you slice it, Germany's request for its gold does not bode well for the future of the dollar. In fact, the Bundesbank's official statements are all you need to confirm the Germans' waning faith in the US.

Last October, after the Bundesbank had requested an audit of its Fed holdings, Executive Board Member Carl-Ludwig Thiele was asked in an interview why the bank kept so much of Germany's gold overseas. His response emphasized the importance of the dollar as the world's reserve currency:

"Gold stored in your home safe is not immediately available as collateral in case you need foreign currency. Take, for instance, the key role that the US dollar plays as a reserve currency in the global financial system. The gold held with the New York Fed can, in a crisis, be pledged with the Federal Reserve Bank as collateral against US dollar-denominated liquidity."

Thiele's statement can lead us to only one conclusion: by keeping fewer reserves in the US, Germany foresees less future need for "US dollar-denominated liquidity."

History Repeats

The whole situation mirrors the late 1960s, during a period that led up to the "Nixon Shock." Back then, the world was on the Bretton Woods System - an attempt on the part of Western central bankers to pin the dollar to gold at a fixed rate, while still allowing the metal to trade privately as a commodity. This led to a gap between the market price of gold as a commodity and the official price available from the Treasury.

As the true value of gold separated further and further from its official rate, the world began to realize the system was unsustainable, and many suspected the US was not serious about maintaining a strong dollar. West Germany moved first on these fears by redeeming its dollar reserves for gold, followed by France, Switzerland, and others. This eventually culminated in Nixon "closing the gold window" in 1971 by ending any link between the dollar and gold. This "Nixon Shock" spurred chronic inflation throughout the '70s and a concurrent rally in gold.

Perhaps the entire international community is thinking back to the '60s, because Germany isn't the only country maneuvering away from the dollar today. The Netherlands and Azerbaijan are also discussing repatriating their foreign gold holdings. And every month, we hear about central banks increasing gold reserves. The latest are Russia and Kazakhstan, but in the last year, countries from Brazil to Turkey have been adding to their gold holdings in order to diversify away from fiat currency reserves.

And don't forget China. Once the biggest purchaser of US bonds, it is now a net seller of Treasuries, while simultaneously gobbling up gold. Some sources even claim that China has unofficially surpassed Germany as the second largest holder of gold in the world.

Unlike the '60s, today there is no official gold window to close. There will be no reported "shock" indicator of a dollar flight. This demand by Germany may be the closest indicator we're going to get. Placing blame where it's due, let's call it the "Bernanke Shock."

It Takes One to Know One

In last month's Gold Letter, I wrote about the three pillars supporting the US Treasury's persistently low interest rates: the Fed, domestic investors, and foreign central banks - led by Japan. I examined how Japan's plans to radically devalue the yen may undermine that country's ability to continue buying Treasuries, which could cause the other pillars to become unstable as well.

While private investors and even the Fed might be deluding themselves into believing US bonds are still a viable investment, Germany's repatriation news makes it clear that foreign governments are no longer buying the propaganda. And why should they? If anyone should appreciate the real constraints the US government is facing, it is other governments.

Our sovereign creditors know that Ben Bernanke and Barack Obama are just regular men in fancy suits. They know the Fed isn't harboring some ingenious plan for raising interest rates while successfully selling back its worthless mortgage and government securities. Instead, the Fed is like a drug addict making any excuse to get its next fix. [See Bernanke's tell-all interview with Oprah where he confesses to economic doping!]

US investors should be as shocked as the Bundesbank about the Fed's deception. While we cannot redeem our dollars for gold with the Fed, we can still buy gold with them in the open market. As more investors and governments choose to save in precious metals, the dollar's value will go into steeper and steeper decline - thereby driving more investors into metals. That's when the virtuous circle upon which the dollar has coasted for a generation will quickly turn vicious. 

Peter Schiff is CEO ofEuro Pacific Precious Metals, a gold and silver dealer selling reputable, well-known bullion coins and bars at competitive prices. 

Click here for a free subscription to Peter Schiff's Gold Letter, a monthly newsletter featuring the latest gold and silver market analysis from Peter Schiff, Casey Research, and other leading experts. 

And now, investors can stay up-to-the-minute on precious metals news and Peter's latest thoughts by visiting Peter Schiff's Official Gold Blog.



Tags:  Ben BernankeBundesbankGermanygold
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No Way Out
Posted by Peter Schiff on 12/14/2012 at 12:54 PM

By upping the ante once again in its gamble to revive the lethargic economy through monetary action, the Federal Reserve's Open Market Committee is now compelling the rest of us to buy into a game that we may not be able to afford.  At his press conference this week, Fed Chairman Bernanke explained how the easiest policy stance in Fed history has just gotten that much easier.  First it gave us zero interest rates, then QEs I and II, Operation Twist, and finally "unlimited" QE3. 

Now that those moves have failed to deliver economic health, the Fed has doubled the size of its open-ended money printing and has announced a program of data flexibility that virtually insures that they will never bump into limitations, until it's too late.  Although their new policies will create numerous long-term challenges for the economy, the biggest near-term challenge for the Fed will be how to keep the momentum going by upping the ante even higher their next meeting.

The big news is that the Fed is now doubling the amount of money it is printing. In addition to its ongoing $40 billion per month of mortgage backed securities (to stimulate housing), it will now buy $45 billion per month of Treasury debt. The latter program replaces Operation Twist, which had used proceeds from the sales of short-term treasuries to finance the purchase of longer yielding paper. The problem is the Fed has already blown through its short-term inventory, so the new buying will be pure balance sheet expansion.

To cloak these shockingly accommodative moves in the garb of moderation, the Fed announced that future policy decisions will be put on automatic pilot by pegging liquidity withdrawal to two sets of economic data. By committing to tightening policy if either unemployment falls below 6.5% or if inflation goes higher than 2.5%, Bernanke is likely looking to silence fears that the Fed will stay too loose for too long. While these statistical benchmarks would be too accommodative even if they were rigidly enforced, the goalposts have been specifically designed to be completely movable, and hence essentially meaningless.

Bernanke said that in order to identify signs of true economic health, the Fed will discount unemployment declines that result from diminishing labor participation rates. It is widely known that a good portion of unemployment declines since 2009 have resulted from the many millions of formerly employed Americans who have dropped out of the workforce. But like many other economists, Bernanke failed to identify where he thinks "real" employment is now after factoring out these workers.  So how far down will the unemployment number have to drift before the Fed's triggering mechanism is tripped? No one knows, and that is exactly how the Fed wants it.

A similarly loose criterion exists for the Fed's other goalpost - inflation. Bernanke stated that he will look past current inflation statistics and look primarily at "core inflation expectations." In other words, he is not interested in data that can be demonstrably shown but on much more amorphous forecasts of other economists who have drunk the Fed's Kool-Aid. He also made clear that rising food or energy prices will never fall into the Fed's radar screen of inflation dangers.

For as long as I can remember (and I can remember for quite some time) the Fed has stripped out "volatile" increases in food and energy, preferring the "core" inflation readings. But in the overwhelming majority of cases, the headline numbers are significantly higher than the core. In other words, Bernanke simply prefers to look at lower numbers. In his press conference, he made it clear that the Fed will avoid looking at price changes in "globally traded commodities," that are all highly influenced by inflation.      

These subjective and attenuated criteria give Fed officials far too much leeway to ignore the guidelines that they are putting into place. If the Fed will not react to what inflation is, but rather to what it expects it to be, what will happen if their expectations turn out to be wrong? After all, their track record in forecasting the events of the last decade has been anything but stellar.

The Fed officials repeatedly assured us that there was no housing bubble, even after it burst. Then they assured us the problem was contained to subprime mortgages. Then they assured us that a slowdown in housing would not impact the broader economy. I could go on, but my point is if the Fed is as spectacularly wrong about inflation as it has been about almost everything else, will they be able to slam on the brakes in time to prevent inflation from running out of control? And if so, at what cost to the overall economy?

The Fed is committing to more than a $1 trillion annual expansion in its balance sheet, an amount greater than the total size of its balance sheet as late as 2008. Most forecasters believe that the Fed will have $4 trillion worth of assets on its books by the end of 2013, and perhaps more than $5 trillion by the end of 2014. If conditions arise that require the Fed to withdraw liquidity, the size of the sales that would be required will be massive. Who exactly does the Fed believe will have pockets deep enough to take the other side of the trade? 

As the biggest buyer of treasuries, it is impossible for the Fed to sell without chances of collapsing the market. Surely any other holders of treasuries would want to front-run the Fed, and what buyer would be foolish enough to get in front of the Fed freight train? The bottom line is that it is impossible for the Fed to fight inflation, which is precisely why it will never acknowledge the existence of any inflation to fight. 

But perhaps the most absurd statement in Bernanke's press conference was his contention that the Fed is not engaged in debt monetization because it intends to sell the debt once the economy improves. This is like a thief claiming that he is not stealing your car, because he intends to return it when he no longer needs it. To make the analogy more accurate, there could not be any other cars on the road for him to steal. 

Without the Fed's buying, it would be impossible for the Treasury to finances its debts at rates it can afford. That is precisely why the Fed has chosen to monetize the debt. Of course, officially acknowledging that fact would make the Fed's job that much harder. Without the monetization safety valve, the government would have to make massive immediate cuts in all entitlements and national defense, plus big tax increases on the middle class.

As I wrote when the Fed first embarked on this ill-fated journey, it has no exit strategy. The Fed adopted what amounts to "the roach motel" of monetary policy. If the Fed actually raised rates as a result of one of its movable goal posts being hit, the result could be a much greater financial crisis than the one we lived through in 2008. The bond bubble would burst, interest rates and unemployment would soar, housing prices would collapse, banks would fail, borrowers would default, budget deficits would swell, and there would be no way to finance another round of bailouts for anyone, including the Federal Government itself. 

In order to generate phony economic growth and to "pay" our country's debts in the most dishonest manner possible, the Federal Reserve is 100% committed to the destruction of the dollar. Anyone with wealth in the U.S. dollar should be concerned that economic leadership is firmly in the hands of irresponsible bureaucrats who are committed to an ivory tower version of reality that bears no resemblance to the world as it really is. 



Tags:  Ben Bernankefederal reserveFedsinflationquantitative easingstimulus
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Inflation: Washington is Blind to Main Street's Biggest Concern
Posted by Peter Schiff on 10/15/2012 at 9:23 AM

Journalists, politicians and economists all seem to agree that the biggest economic issue currently worrying voters is unemployment. It follows then that most believe that the deciding factor in the presidential race will be the ability of each candidate to convince the public that his policies will create jobs. It seems that everyone got this memo...except the voters. 

According to the results of a Fox News poll released last week (a random telephone sample of more than 1,200 registered voters), 41% identified "inflation" as "the biggest economic problem they faced." This is nearly double the 24% that named "unemployment" as their chief concern. For further comparison, 19% identified "taxes" and 7% "the housing market" as their primary concern. A full 44% of women, who often do more of the household shopping and would therefore be more sensitive to prices changes, identified rising prices as their primary concern.

My most recent video blog addresses this topic in detail.  

While these statistics do not surprise me, they should shock the hell out of the establishment.  According to the Federal Reserve, inflation is not a concern at all. Time after time, in front of Congress and the press, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has said that inflation is contained and that it is below the Fed's "mandated" rate of inflation (whatever that may be.) The Bureau of Labor Statistics is saying the same thing. The measures they use to monitor inflation, such as the Consumer Price Index (CPI) and the Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE), show annual inflation well below 2%. In fact, the GDP price deflator used by the Commerce Department to calculate the second quarter's 1.3% annual growth rate assumed annual inflation was running at just 1.6%. 

In fact, Bernanke thinks inflation is so low that he is actually worried about deflation, which he believes is a more dangerous issue. As a result, he is recommending policies that look to raise the inflation rate, not just to combat the phantom menace of deflation but to boost the housing market and reduce unemployment. He mistakenly believes these problems are the ones that concern Americans the most. 

If inflation really is as subdued as the government claims, how is it that so many people are concerned? It's not as if the media or political candidates are fanning the fears of rising prices. In fact, given the media's preoccupation with the housing market, the fact that nearly seven times as many Americans worry more about rising food prices than falling home prices shows just how large the inflation problem must be. Yet most economic observers continue to swallow the government's inflation propaganda hook, line and sinker. In fact, although the Fox poll came out last week, I did not read or hear a single story on this topic, even from Fox news itself, which appears to not have noticed the significance of its own data. 

For years my critics have always attempted to discredit my inflation fears by pointing to government statistics showing low rates. However, I have long maintained that such statistics under-report inflation, and the results of this poll seem to confirm my suspicion. There are only two possible ways to explain the disconnect. Either the government is correct and consumers are worried about a non-existent problem, or the consumers' concerns are real and the government's statistics are not. From my perspective, it seems that it is far more likely that consumers are in the right. If so, we are in a lot of trouble. 

If annual inflation is actually higher than 3%, which would certainly be the case if consumers are so worried about it, then we are already in recession. Had government used a 3% inflation deflator (rather than the 1.6% that they actually used) to calculate 2nd quarter GDP, then growth would have been reported at negative .1% rather than the positive 1.3%. I believe that if the government used more accurate inflation data over the past several years, it is possible that we would have seen no statistical recovery from the recession that began in the fourth quarter of 2007. This would help explain why the "recovery" has failed to create jobs or lift personal incomes.   

The Fed's zero percent interest rate policy is predicated on the assumption that there is currently no inflation. If this is not accurate, then they are making a major policy mistake. The Fed is easing when it should be tightening. If inflation is such a major concern now, imagine how much bigger the problem will become once the Fed achieves its goal of pushing the rate higher. More importantly, how much tighter will future monetary policy have to be to put the inflation genie back in her bottle? If inflation becomes so virulent before the Fed realizes its mistake, then it may be forced to raise interest rates significantly. U.S. national debt is projected to reach $20 trillion within a few years. As a result, a 10% interest rate (which would be needed to combat 1970's style inflation) will require the U.S. government to pay about $2 trillion per year in interest on the national debt. This will absolutely upend all economic projections.  

Since 10% interest rates will likely crush the economy, not to mention the banks and the real estate market, tax revenues will plunge and non-interest government expenditures will go through the roof. Assuming we try to borrow the difference, annual budget deficits could go much, much higher from the already ridiculously high levels that they have reached during President Obama's term. Annual deficits of $2 trillion, $3 trillion, or even $4 trillion, would result in a sovereign debt crisis that would force the Federal Government to either default on its obligations or inflate them away. Given the tendency for politicians to prefer the latter, voters who think rising prices are a problem now should just wait until they see what is waiting down the road!

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

Subscribe to Euro Pacific's Weekly Digest: Receive all commentaries by Peter Schiff, John Browne, and other Euro Pacific commentators delivered to your inbox every Monday!  

And be sure to order a copy of Peter Schiff's recently released NY Times Best Seller, The Real Crash: America's Coming Bankruptcy - How to Save Yourself and Your Country

Tags:  Ben Bernankeeconomyinflationmain streetunemployment
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