Treasury Secretary Yellen's Gaffe

You kind of knew this was going to happen eventually. You’re just probably surprised it happened so fast and so publicly.

After serving as Federal Reserve chair for four years, until February 2018, and now Treasury Secretary since January, Janet Yellen could probably be forgiven for forgetting what position she holds. After all, in addition to being located in Washington, both the Fed and the Treasury pretty much work hand in hand, with the former directing monetary policy and the latter handling fiscal policy. Under the pretense, they’re both independent of each other.

But last week, Yellen let the cat out of the bag and ignited a one-day mini taper tantrum in stock prices, which is a little hard to understand, given that she only said what everyone else was already thinking. (But as we know, a gaffe is when a politician or government official accidentally tells the truth).

“It may be that interest rates will have to rise somewhat to make sure that our economy doesn’t overheat, even though the additional spending [proposed and already enacted by the Biden Administration] is relatively small relative to the size of the economy,” she said in a prerecorded interview at the Atlantic’s Future Economy Summit.

Later on, of course, she walked that back a little, telling the Wall Street Journal, “I don’t think there’s going to be an inflationary problem, but if there is, the Fed can be counted on to address it,” she said.

It was certainly much ado about nothing, but it raises an important question, namely: Other than raising interest rates, either directly or indirectly, what exactly can the Fed do to fend off higher inflation? Continue reading "Treasury Secretary Yellen's Gaffe"

The Big Picture Continuum

The Continuum (monthly 30yr yield with the 100-month EMA ‘limiter’) simply states that the economy was weakening, as were inflation expectations, before 2020. In early 2020 we got a real deflationary jolt from which asset markets are still clawing back, with full frontal inflationary support from a Federal Reserve desperate to keep asset owners whole (and further enriched) and to further punish savers and those without the means to invest in the racket.

They called Ben Bernanke “the Hero” but he was actually the perpetrator of the next debt-backed inflation that would further ruin the country, primarily by greatly increasing the divide between asset owners and everyone else. If we had taken the pain in 2008 and 2009 we’d be on a new system now. Instead, we are riding the Greenspan>Bernanke>Powell continuum. Yellen is omitted because nothing egregious happened under her watch. She slipped in between the cycles and fell through the cracks.

Racism? Scapegoating? Xenophobia? Paranoia? Polarization? Caricature of the truth and of the debate? It’s all in there and it’s all in one way or another compliments of the rigged monetary system promoted by the Fed and whatever party happens to be in power at any given time (let’s remember that Bernanke’s ‘rich richer, poor poorer’ scheme was cooked up under a supposed socialist president). The public is filled with political bias and hatred but is relatively ignorant about where the wheels of injustice actually turn. Continue reading "The Big Picture Continuum"

This Time It's For Real

A little over a year ago, I wrote a column about Modern Monetary Theory. Don't look now, but it's no longer a theory, it's reality. Depending on how it eventually turns out, we'll find out if the economic cure to the coronavirus was worse than the disease.

In simple terms, MMT adherents believe that countries that issue and back their currencies, like the U.S., can print as much money as they need and still stay solvent. (Compare the eurozone, where the European Central Bank issues the currency, not the individual member countries). And without creating runaway inflation.

You can try this at home, too, you know, although it doesn't work nearly as well for individuals as it does for governments. Pay off one of your credit card balances with a balance transfer from another bank, then keep repeating the process. This will work for a while until the merry-go-round eventually stops when the banks stop lending you money, and you'll have to either pay everything you owe or wind up in bankruptcy court.

Of course, it's different for the government, which is one of MMT's main arguments, since it can just print more money when it runs out, which means the merry-go-round keeps going, even if investors stop buying Treasury bonds. If that happens, which it never has, the Federal Reserve, a separate but "independent" arm of the government, will pick up the slack.

Neat, huh? Continue reading "This Time It's For Real"

Why Inflation?

The simple answer is that is what they are doing, inflating.

The slightly less simple answer is that they inflated in 2001 and it worked (for gold, silver, commodities and eventually stocks, roughly in that order). It also worked in 2008-2009 (for gold, silver, commodities and eventually stocks, roughly in that order).

The more complicated answer is that we are down a rabbit hole of debt and the hole appears bottomless. What’s a few more trillion on top of un-payable trillions? As long as confidence remains intact in our monetary and fiscal authorities – and COVID-19 or no COVID-19, stock mini-crash or not, confidence to my eye is intact, speaking of my country, anyway – they will inflate, and what’s more, they will be called upon to inflate.

Confidence may be failing in other parts of the world but the average American is behind this thing they don’t even really understand, known as the Fed. The average American expects the bailout checks from the fiscally reflating government too. Angst, of which there has been plenty lately, is much different from lack of confidence.

I can’t include here all the ways and means the Fed has (frankly, I don’t know about them all) to prop the system, but if you go to the St. Louis Fed website you will find a whole slew of Keynesian egghead stuff. They are on it! Continue reading "Why Inflation?"

Does The Fed Have Any Ammo Left?

So, far, the Fed has done an enormous amount of heavy lifting to try to keep the U.S. – and global – economy afloat during this unprecedented crisis, which – just so far – easily dwarfs the 2008 financial crisis in severity. As scary as things were back then, with many of the largest financial institutions in the world threatened with collapse, we didn’t have to worry about thousands of people dying as a result. This crisis is far worse, and we still haven’t the vaguest notion of how bad it still might get.

Let’s review all of the various Fed moves since the beginning of this month, then let’s talk about what else it might be able to do:

  • On March 3, the Fed held its first of what would be two emergency meetings this month, announcing a 50-basis point rate cut in its benchmark federal funds rate to a range of 1% to 1.25%. That move bombed.
  • It followed that up less than two weeks later on March 15 – a Sunday no less – with another 50 bp cut, to a range of 0.25% to zero. That also had little effect.
  • At the same time, the Fed said it would increase “over coming months” its holdings of Treasury securities by at least $500 billion and its holdings of mortgage-backed securities by at least $200 billion. However, by the end of last week, the Fed had already bought about $275 billion of those securities. As the Wall Street Journal pointed out, “this means the Fed will have bought more than half of the $500 billion in Treasury securities in one week with little sign of restored market functioning, pointing to a growing likelihood for a much more aggressive round of purchases.”
  • The Fed created a Money Market Mutual Fund Lending Facility that would make loans to banks secured by assets from money market funds, similar to what it did during the 2008 crisis, although this time, it would be purchasing a broader range of assets. On Friday, it extended the facility to include short-term debt issued by cities and states.
  • The Fed also said it was creating a new Primary Dealers Credit Facility that would provide major players in the government securities market with short-term loans.

As bold as all of these moves have been, have they actually done anything to restore public and investor confidence? Hardly. While the Fed has driven already low-interest rates back down to zero, it doesn’t mean very much when nobody wants to own any financial assets – whether it’s Treasury bonds or gold or anything else. Not blaming the Fed, but there’s only so much it can do when just about everyone is acting like the world is coming to an end.

But is there more it can do, either under its existing powers or some new Congressional mandate? Continue reading "Does The Fed Have Any Ammo Left?"