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Geithner
Twist Paves the Way for QE III
Posted by Peter Schiff on 09/23/2011 at 1:33 PM

Earlier this week the Federal Reserve ignited a firestorm in the global markets by admitting that the U.S. economy is facing downside risks. Although it continues to sugar coat the unpleasant reality, never has such a stunningly obvious statement resulted in so much turmoil.

Once again we are seeing the knee-jerk market reaction to seek refuge in the perceived safety of the U.S. dollar and U.S. Treasuries. However I expect investors will soon discover that such assets are firmly in the eye of the storm.  As the tempest moves on, those enjoying the dollar's current stability may soon find themselves battered by a category five monster.

Market disappointment was compounded when the Fed failed to follow up its dire outlook with a new round of quantitative easing (QE). Instead, through a policy entitled "Operation Twist" the Fed promised to sell $400 billion of short-term Treasuries and use the proceeds to buy an equivalent amount of long-term Treasuries. The markets evidently perceived this "balance sheet neutral" policy as too timid.

From my perspective, the Twist really amounts to another Fed "Hail Mary" pass that will fall short of the end zone. But, by putting the squeeze on banks and further restricting credit availability to small business the move will likely do more harm than good.

The policy rests on the false premise moving already historically low interest rates even lower will stimulate the economy into recovery. But low interest rates are part of the problem, not part of the solution. 

Even by the government's debased standards, trailing headline inflation is already hovering above 4%, and, at current rates, 30-year Treasuries are negative by 100 basis points. This distortion is inflicting untold damage on the economy. Pushing rates further into negative territory seems only to invite more problems in the future.

With the Twist, the Ben Bernanke wing of the increasingly divided Fed is offering debtors the short-term gain of low long rates in exchange for its own long-term pain of limited balance sheet flexibility and diminished power to deal with surging inflation. By selling on the short end (thereby pushing up short term yields) and buying on the long end (thereby pushing down long-term yields), the Fed will flatten the yield curve. But to attain these insignificant benefits, the plan exposes the Fed, and the economy, to great risks.

First the "benefits": Mortgage rates are already at generational lows and have recently lagged the declines seen in long dated Treasuries. Is it reasonable to believe that mortgage rates will go much lower as a result of this policy?  Even if they do, what would be the net economic benefit of a new refinancing wave? Do we really want to encourage consumers once again to use their homes as ATM machines? Even if they do, any short-term boost in consumer spending would be transitory and counter-productive to a genuine recovery.  The last thing we want to encourage is more spending, particularly on the imported products that would likely be purchased by those who refinanced. 

What's more, the program will actually increase borrowing costs for small businesses. By increasing the cost of short-term borrowing and lowering returns on long-term loans, it will severely pressure the profitability of the beleaguered financial sector. In other words the borrower's gain is the lender's pain. In such conditions, should we expect banks to provide more credit to small business? In fact, the move will be a devastating blow to bank balance sheets and further enfeeble a financial sector on life support.  Business credit will instead be diverted to dead end consumer spending, resulting in less business activity to grow the economy and create jobs. 

Now the costs: The Fed severely underestimates the danger of loading up its own balance sheet with long dated securities. Not only does the move expose the Fed to severe losses when interest rates inevitably rise, but it drastically reduces its ability to withdraw liquidity to fight inflation. Short-term securities provided flexibility as they could be sold into a falling market with little price risk, or if need be, held to maturity. Such options do not exist with bonds maturing in 6-30 years. So when inflation continues to rise, as I'm sure it will, the Fed will be powerless to slow it without crushing the bond market and causing yields to soar.

In any event, the markets did not want the Twist program, they wanted additional liquidity injections in the form of QE III. In this respect, the market is like a heroin junkie. It needs ever-greater doses of money to continue moving higher. When it gets its fix, it will rally.

But a growing popular mistrust of stimulus is currently pressuring the Fed to forestall the launch of QE III. But a few more whiffs of financial turbulence could cause the Fed to fold. When the market rally ensues the Fed will claim victory.  But the celebration will be hollow. The nominal gain in stock prices will likely be eclipsed by dollar declines and a more rapid gain in gold, oil, or other commodity prices. The result for investors will be higher nominal portfolio values but lower real purchasing power and a reduced standard of living.

But many of those who oppose QE3 do so because they believe the economy doesn't need more stimulus not because the stimulus itself is causing the economic weakness. As a result when the economy deteriorates, support for QE III could grow. In the end QE3 will likely be far more popular than another bank bailout (possibly to be called TARP II), which may be on the table if the Fed fails to rescue the banks it may be pushing over the edge with the Twist.

But our zombie economy does not need to be perpetuated by more QE. It must be allowed to die so that a living, breathing, self-sustaining economy can replace it. By feeding our addiction now the Fed is impeding the recovery. QE may goose the markets and provide a short-term boost to spending, but it will also increase debt and grow the government. This process exacerbates the structural imbalances underlying the U.S. economy, making what may be the inevitable crash that much more spectacular. 



Tags:  Ben BernankefedGeithneroperation twistqetreasury
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Pentonomics - The Chinese Have Stopped Laughing
Posted by Michael Pento on 07/29/2011 at 10:21 AM

The economy continues to prove that it didn’t need a stalemate between democrats and republicans over whether or not we should expand our credit limit in order to poop the bed. Gross Domestic Product climbed a paltry 1.3% in the second quarter of this year following a severely downgraded Q1 print of just 0.4%. Growth in the first quarter was revised down from a 1.9% prior estimate. Also today, the Institute for Supply Management-Chicago Inc. said its business barometer fell to 58.8 in July, from 61.1 in the prior month. And the Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan final index of consumer sentiment fell to 63.7 this month, which was the weakest since March 2009, from 71.5 in June.

Where are all those shills who assured us last year that 2011 would display a “V” shaped recovery in jobs and the economy? I know, I heard some of them today saying that the second half of this year is going to be great!  Their reasoning was the same as it always is. Earnings are going to be wonderful because half of S&P 500 companies' earnings are in foreign currencies. Then, thanks to our crumbling currency, those foreign earnings translate into a ton of U.S. dollars—those dollars don’t buy you very much, but who cares as long as we are able to say we beat Wall St. expectations.

The poor, lonely Tea Party is vilified as being inhuman and behaving as insane children for not allowing the country to bankrupt itself as quickly as possible—even by members of their own party (read here what John McCain had to say for yourself). I guess the philosophy of McCain and his friends is that we should raise the debt ceiling to infinity and beyond and just pay our creditors back with more printed money. After all, the National Debt has grown from $400 billion in 1971 to $14.4 trillion today, so what’s a few more trillion between now and 2013? The dollar has lost 98% of its purchasing power in the last 40 years, so why not keep on defaulting on our debt through inflation and destroy the last few vestiges of the middle class. Sounds like a plan to me. It’s just business as usual. They urge us to keep up the spirit of cooperation and goodwill that has served to render this country insolvent.

The only problem is that the Chinese have stopped laughing at Geithner’s so called “strong dollar policy” and are now allowing the Renminbi to rise against the greenback (up nearly 6% in the last year). If we continue down this road much longer the only buyer of U.S. debt will be the Fed. That’s the real down grade to come. Not from the credit rating agencies, but from our foreign creditors. Once we have a failed Treasury auction, it will engender a vicious cycle. Debt service expense will soar, which causes out of control deficits. The Fed will be forced to purchase more of the debt and inflation rates become intractable, thus destroying GDP growth. Runaway debt, interest rates and inflation is what  the Tea Party is trying so hard to avoid and it is a cause worth fighting for!



Tags:  Chinacreditdebtdebt ceilingeconomyGDPGeithner
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Pentonomics - Geithner's Failed Makeover
Posted by Michael Pento on 02/16/2011 at 8:31 PM
To counter the increasing demands that government reduce its micromanagement of the economy, last week the Obama Administration offered a fig leaf in the form of a white paper entitled "Reforming America's Housing Finance Market." In addition to marking the official end of the Bush era "ownership society," where increasing the level of home ownership was a national priority, the document contains a recommended regulatory overhaul of the Federal Housing Authority (FHA) as well as Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac (together known as Government Sponsored Enterprises "GSE's"), that intends to bring the share of government owned home loans from the current 95% to 40% over the next 5-7 years.
 
In the report, the Obama Administration makes the important admission that government interference in housing had dangerously distorted the market. And, while the goal of reducing the government's footprint in the housing market is certainly laudable, the reform plan is not only too little too late, but fails miserably to address the nucleus of the problem. Even if all the recommendations are adopted, the government would actually extend its explicit guarantees to bail out failing lenders. Most importantly, the proposal completely overlooks the most significant government distortion of the housing market: the Federal Reserve's manipulation of interest rates. Thus, this plan will insure that government's role in the mortgage market will likely expand in the years ahead.
 
Banks are in the business of borrowing on the short end of the yield curve and lending on the long end. Since interest rates are generally lower for shorter time durations, banks make profits by capturing the spread. But if the gap between long term and short term rates narrow, or sometimes vanish completely, banks have a much harder time operating. Rapid and dramatic changes in interest rates also expose banks to money losing risks. 
 
In a free market, whenever the supply of savings contracts the cost of money tends to increase. Those rising interest rates curb the demand for borrowing and increase the propensity to save. Conversely, increased savings rates lower the price of money, thereby encouraging more borrowing. Consequently, in a free economy market forces tend to stabilize interest rate volatility. However in the United States interest rates are anything but free.
 
When interest rates are set by a few people behind closed doors, as they are by the Federal Reserve, massive distortions can occur in the supply demand metric. For example, the S&L crisis of the late 80's and early 90's was brought about by the loose monetary policy of the 70's. Rising interest rates, which were a direct response to rising inflation, soon found S&L's paying out more on their short-term borrowed funds than they were collecting on their long term assets. The consequences for those imbalances caused by our central bank rendered nearly one thousand banks insolvent.
 
To mitigate this problem, early in the last decade banks began turning more and more to securitization as a way to unload the mortgages on their books by packaging and selling loans to outside investors. Not only does securitization bring in fees and reduce banks' risk exposure but it also sucks in more capital to the real estate market, while increasing financial sector profits. It's no wonder that the securitization market grew to over $10 trillion in the U.S. before the credit crisis of 2008. On paper this was a good solution to the problem, but additional government involvement in the securitization market threw in a monkey wrench.
 
Given the size and diversity of the investment market in the U.S. and around the world, there was adequate private demand for securitized mortgages. With relatively low risk and more generous yields than government debt, pension funds and other institutional investors bought heavily. However, as the Federal Reserve continued to lower rates and as the government engineered housing boom finally went bust, this private label demand dried up almost completely. The GSEs now provide financing for 9 out of 10 mortgages. Therefore, the real estate market today is virtually 100% distorted and manipulated by government forces. 
 
Treasury Secretary Geithner--the President's main pitch man for the program--touted the proposed solution of a hybrid federal reinsurance plan that would include a standing federal catastrophic reinsurer for private guarantors of mortgage-backed securities. The government has already clearly shown that its erstwhile implicit guarantee is now in fact explicit for GSE debt. That condition would remain intact. However, now government involvement would also morph into an explicit guarantee to reinsure private label mortgages. Therefore, in typical government fashion, the proposed reforms are merely a repackaging of the previous sham. Even if the plan were to be successfully carried out, the GSEs would still account for nearly half of all mortgage financing. Only now the government would also back private insurance for private label MBS with yet another explicit guarantee in case of emergency. Who can doubt that such conditions will inevitably arise? As to how this can ever satisfy the need to remove moral hazard or getting the government out of the housing market is beyond me.
 
In other words, there is no meaningful governmental withdrawal from the market. Most importantly, the plan does nothing to address the Fed's role in making interest rates much lower and more volatile than they would otherwise be. Unfortunately the housing market will remain in government control for years to come and another real estate crisis will inevitably occur.


Tags:  federal reserveGeithner
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G20, Tax the Rich
Posted by Staff on 10/26/2010 at 10:06 AM
Schiff comments on the G20 meeting in Seoul and the "Tax the Rich" policy.

Tags:  G20GeithnerTax the Rich
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Markets, China rate hike, gold, Geithner, Fisher, France
Posted by Staff on 10/19/2010 at 4:20 PM
Schiff  talks about the markets, China rate hike, gold, Geithner, Fisher, France and more.

Tags:  Geithner
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