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Memo to the Fed and its Media Tool Hilsenrath: We’re Not Here to Enrich Your Corporate Cronies

June 5, 2015
Memo to the Fed: you are the enemy of the middle class, capitalism and the nation.

The Federal Reserve is appalled that we’re not spending enough to further inflate the value of its corporate and banking cronies. In the Fed’s eyes, your reason for being is to channel whatever income you have to the Fed’s private-sector cronies–banks and corporations.

If you’re being “stingy” and actually conserving some of your income for savings and investment, you are Public Enemy #1 to the Fed. Your financial security is nothing compared to the need of banks and corporations to earn even more obscene profits. According to the Fed, all our problems stem from not funneling enough money to the Fed’s private-sector cronies.

Fed media tool Jon Hilsenrath recently gave voice to the Fed’s obsessive concern for its cronies’ profits, and received a rebuke from the middle class he chastised as “stingy.” Hilsenrath Confused Midde-Class “Responded Strongly” To “Offensive” Question Why It Isn’t Spending.

Memo to the Fed and its media tool Hilsenrath: we’re not here to further enrich your already obscenely rich banker and corporate cronies by buying overpriced goods and services we don’t need. Our job is not to spend every cent we earn on interest to banks and mostly-garbage corporate goods and services. Our job is to limit the amount we squander on interest and needless spending. Our job is to build the financial security of our families by saving capital and prudently investing it in assets we control (as opposed to letting Wall Street control our assets parked in equity and bond funds).

Your zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP) has gutted our ability to build capital safely. For that alone, you are an enemy of the middle class. Let’s say we wanted to buy a real asset that we control, for example, a rental house, rather than gamble our retirement funds on Wall Street’s Scam du Jour (stock buybacks funded by debt, to name the latest and greatest scam).

Thanks to your policies of ZIRP and unlimited liquidity for financiers, we’ve been outbid by the Wall Street/private-equity crowd–your cronies and pals. They pay almost nothing for their money and they don’t need a down payment, while we’re paying 4.5% on mortgages and need 30% down payment for a non-owner occupied home. Who wins that bidding process? Those with 100% financing at near-zero rates.

Here’s a short list of stuff we don’t need to buy:

1. New house: overpriced. Debt-serfdom for a wafer-board/sawdust-and-glue mansion? Pay your banker buddies $250,000 in interest to buy a $300,000 house? Hope the bursting of the real estate bubble doesn’t wipe out whatever equity we might have? No thanks.

2. New vehicle: overpriced. We can buy a good used car and a can of “new car smell” for half the price, or abandon car ownership entirely if we live in a city with peer-to-peer transport services. We can bicycle or ride a motorscooter.

3. Anything paid with credit cards.

4. Any processed food.

5. A subscription to the Wall Street Journal and other financial-media cheerleaders for you, your banker buddies and Corporate America.

How Wall Street Devoured Corporate America: Thirty years ago, the financial sector claimed around a tenth of U.S. corporate profits. Today, it’s almost 30 percent

Here’s how your cronies have fared since you started your low-interest rate/free money for financiers policies circa 2001: corporate profits have soared:

Now look at median household income adjusted for inflation: down 4%–inflation which we know is skewed to under-weight the big ticket items such as healthcare and college education that are skyrocketing in cost:

And here’s how the middle class has fared since the Federal Reserve made boosting Wall Street and the too big to fail banks its primary goal, circa 1982: the bottom 90% have treaded water for decades, the top 9% did well and the top 1% reaped fabulous gains as a result of your policies.

If you’re wondering why we’re not spending, look at our incomes (going nowhere), earnings on savings (essentially zero) and the future you’ve created: ever-widening income disparity, ever-greater financial insecurity, ever-higher risks for those forced to gamble in your rigged casino, and a political/financial system firmly in the hands of your ever-wealthier cronies.

Capital–which includes savings–is the foundation of capitalism. If you attack savings as the scourge limiting corporate profits, you are attacking capitalism and upward mobility. The Fed is not supporting capitalism; rather, the Fed’s raison d’etre is crony-capitalism, in which insiders and financiers get essentially free money from the Fed in unlimited quantities that they then use to buy up all the productive assets.

Everyone else–the bottom 99.5%–is relegated to consumer: you are not supposed to accumulate productive capital, you are supposed to spend every penny you earn on interest paid to banks and buying goods and services that further boost corporate profits.

This inversion of capitalism is not just destructive to the nation–it is evil. Funneling trillions of dollars in free money for financiers while chiding Americans for not going deeper into debt is evil.

Memo to the Fed: you are the enemy of capitalism, the middle class and the nation.

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Quantitative Easing Forever?

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Central bankers don’t see their mistakes.

Posted August 10, 2011
Guatemala City, Guatemala

Despite assertions that it has ended its policy of quantitative easing (QE), the Fed is unlikely to be able to do so until it also ends its zero-interest-rate policy (ZIRP). This deadly policy duo has had terrible consequences for the American economy and every country using U.S. dollars, which continue to depreciate.

It is as though the Fed were riding on the back of a double-headed monster. It cannot hang on forever, but it cannot dismount the beast without being devoured. As it is, the U.S. Treasury depends on ZIRP to fund America’s ballooning debt. As investors flee an enfeebled dollar and ponder S&P’s downgrade, the Fed is likely to be the “buyer of first resort” so that the price of Treasuries does not fall, pushing up interest rates. So with the Fed insisting that short-term interest rates will remain near zero “for an extended period,” a phrase used for the past two years, a new round of QE is almost inevitable.

Excess Liquidity

For its part, QE involves flooding financial institutions with excess liquidity to try to flatten out the yield curve and depress long-term interest rates in hopes of sparking a recovery. But QE has created a massive overhang of excess reserves in the banking system that constitute repressed price inflation. And the sums involved are truly staggering with the Fed having injected at least $2.3 trillion into the financial system since Lehman Brothers collapsed in September 2008.

From late 2008 through March 2010, the Fed bought longer-term securities worth $1.7 trillion (QE1). This included purchases of $500 billion of mortgage securities and $100 billion of agency debentures with a target of $1.25 trillion for mortgage debt. purchasing mortgage-backed securities and bailing out AIG and Bear Stearns, as well as buying other securities, led to an increase in the monetary base of 140 percent.

In November 2010 the Fed began QE2 by buying an additional $600 billion in longer-term Treasury securities, a program that officially expired at the end of June. Yet the Fed has indicated it will continue buying Treasuries using proceeds from maturing debt it already owns, allowing it to engage in continuing quantitative easing by another name.

With over $112 billion of the Fed’s government bond holdings maturing over the coming 12 months, replacement alone would involve purchases of Treasurys of over $9 billion each month. It also has more than $914 billion of mortgage-backed debt and $118 billion of debentures issued by government-sponsored enterprises (Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac). As such, this is a “stealth” continuation of QE with only a limited, if any, decrease in the money-creation process.

Last Gasp

For all the fanfare about QE, it must be said that it constitutes a last-gasp step and admission of failure of other monetary policy tools. Consider the case of Japan. Its central bank, the Bank of Japan (BoJ), began asset purchases under QE to offset deflation and stimulate its ailing economy in early 2001.

After nearly a decade of setting interest rates near zero, the BoJ realized it had been unable to conjure up an economic recovery. Then after five years of gradually expanding its bond purchases, the BOJ exercised an exit strategy from QE in 2006, only to begin again.

Last March the BoJ increased its QE program from ¥5 trillion to ¥10 trillion (about $130 billion) scheduled until the end of 2012. Recently, it announced another expansion to ¥15 trillion ($183 billion).

A child untutored in economics might think it makes no sense to continue massive increases of liquidity into the economy that have been ineffective for so long. But most central bankers and many economists demur that previous amounts were too little and more is needed.

No Growth

But the incentives that QE and ZIRP create for commercial banks make it easy to see why these policies cannot promote economic growth. On the one hand, low interest rates reduce the cost of borrowing, which should encourage more investment spending. But on the other, commercial banks pay almost nothing to borrow yet receive interest payments from the Fed to hold excess reserves, making them unlikely to extend new loans.

A sufficiently high interest rate paid on bank reserves will induce banks to choose a risk-free, interest-bearing asset rather than lending to private-sector borrowers. And so it is that commercial banks are earning record profits while making very few new loans.

The question of whether the Fed or the BoJ have an effective “exit strategy” from their policies of monetary expansion using near-zero interest rates and quantitative easing remains open. One possibility for the Fed is to engage in repurchase agreements (reverse repos) to remove some of the excess liquidity that it pumped into the financial system.

These reverse repos involve selling securities to commercial banks with the Fed agreeing to buy them back at a higher price at a later date. But once again, commercial banks will find the choice between holding risk-free, interest-bearing assets a much better bet than issuing new commercial loans.

Repressed Inflation

In the end both QE and ZIRP have been ineffective in restoring economic vitality while also creating a massive overhang of repressed inflation. Most economists view business startups, especially small- and medium-sized enterprises, as the key to economic recovery and growth. Yet QE and associated central-bank policies are diverting credit away from newly forming firms.

The Fed has now announced it will continue the “exceptionally” low short-term interest rates until the middle of 2013! This indicates that U.S. central bankers are unconvinced of the errors of their ways in their policy choices. That they are unwilling and unable to change course means that the U.S. and Japanese economies are doomed to painfully slow economic growth for the foreseeable future.

Christopher Lingle is visiting professor of economics at Universidad Francisco Marroquin in Guatemala and research fellow at the Centre for Civil Society in New Delhi.See All Posts by This Author

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