03 January 2009

Chicago Fed Says Take Interest Rates "Below Zero" and Monetize Debt (to Devalue Dollar)

Quantitative easing to mimic interest rates 'below zero' effectively penalizes the buyers of US bonds and dollar savings by providing a negative rate of return after inflation.

Inflation is desirable if you are a net debtor and you control the value of the method of your payment, ie. cheaper dollars to pay off service your debt.

We have to wonder how well negative real interest rates will support the enormous increase in the supply of Treasury debt that is coming to market this year because of a soaring national debt of about two trillion dollars.

The obvious target buyers are the exporting countries such as OPEC, Japan and China. We also suspect the Fed will start buying the yield curve, quietly and indirectly if not transparently.

Other central banks, such as Europe, will be expected to follow suit and devalue their own currencies through lower rates, to decrease the perceived impact of a dollar devaluation, in a group 'ratcheting down' of the developed nations' currencies.

This will require 'management' of the price of real things like commodities. Fortunately the price for most of them is set in London and New York. Life is tough for an exporting nation when you are riding the dollar reserve currency regime and an industrial policy of 'beggar your people' to support it.

The boundary constraint on the Fed in a purely fiat regime is the value of the US dollar and the Treasury debt. Greenspan's Fed managed to inflate its way out of the tech crash of 2000-2 with bubbles in equities and housing prices, a significant dollar devaluation, but an amazingly resilient bond thanks to official buying by a few foreign central banks.

Alan Greenspan famously stated, in a repudiation of his earlier views while responding to Congressman Ron Paul, that a fiat dollar as the reserve currency is viable because "the Federal Reserve does a good job of essentially mimicking a gold standard and...the Fed does not facilitate government expansion and deficit spending."

We expect to see Bernanke and the Congress test the limits of monetary and Keynesian economic theory again this year, and the acceptance of the US dollar and fiat currencies as a faux gold standard, as being of the utmost integrity and impartiality, immutable and nationless.

We tend to remain skeptical of the outcome however, keeping in mind the words of George Bernard Shaw, "You have a choice between the natural stability of gold and the honesty and intelligence of the members of government. And with all due respect for those gentlemen, I advise you, as long as the capitalist system lasts, vote for gold."

The major challenge for the governments of the world for the remainder of this decade, other than blowing us all to pieces, will be to create a viable alternative to the US dollar as the world's reserve currency and a major vehicle for international trade.

This could be one for the record books.

Evans says Fed needs to mimic below-zero rates

By Ros Krasny
Sat Jan 3, 2009 8:18pm EST

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A grim economic outlook highlights the need for the Federal Reserve to step up quantitative measures to boost growth, with official interest rates already effectively at zero, Charles Evans, president of the Chicago Fed, said on Saturday.

Evans said that based on the outlook for rising unemployment, falling industrial production and a wider output gap, economic models suggest rates should be below zero.

"If it were not constrained by zero, those models would want to push it below zero, but that's not possible," Evans told reporters after a panel at the American Economic Association's meeting in San Francisco.

Quantitative easing, a way to flood the banking system with large amounts of money, "is a way to mimic below-zero rates and provide support to the economy," he said. (They would intend to create a monetary inflation to take the 'real rate' below zero. "Quantitative Easing" is Fedspeak for "printing money." - Jesse)

The process often involves buying up large quantities of assets from banks, such as the Fed's latest programs to buy mortgage-backed securities. (This is known as "monetizing debt." - Jesse)

In December, the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed's policy-setting body, took the surprising step of lowering the federal funds rate to a range of zero to 0.25 percent. Cash fed funds had been trading below the previous 1 percent target rate for several weeks.

In his remarks, Evans, who is a voting member of the FOMC in 2009, said the Fed's various lending programs should help cushion the impact of the year-old U.S. recession but a large traditional fiscal stimulus plan is also needed, even with the problems it could create over the longer term.

"I believe a big stimulus is appropriate," Evans said. "But it is sobering to be deploying large amounts of taxpayer funds at a time when our fiscal balance sheet is already coming under significant stress."

Without the Fed's programs to help unfreeze credit markets and to-the-bone rate cuts, "the downturn -- and its costs to society -- would be even more severe than what we are currently facing," said Evans.

Since the financial market crisis erupted, the Fed has created several new programs aimed at bypassing the traditional banking system and smashing through the credit-market logjam, including the direct purchase of mortgage-backed securities.

Even so, the U.S. jobless rate appears on pace to exceed 8 percent in 2009, from the most recent reading of 6.7 percent in November, Evans said.

Although the current recession started with the collapse of the U.S. housing market, Evans said many non-financial industries now face the risk of "long-term structural impairment." (It was the Fed's reflationary effort after the Crash of 2000-2 that created the housing bubble. - Jesse)

Evans said fiscal programs to support growth "must be large in order to be effective and to instill badly needed confidence" given the severity of the downturn. (We have an intuition that the Congress will meaningfully explore the concept of 'large' government programs - Jesse)

President-elect Barack Obama has said that signing a major economic stimulus package will be his first priority when he takes office on January 20, with a goal of creating 3 million jobs over two years.

Evans also said the market crisis that erupted in 2007 showed huge holes in financial regulation.

"Significant weaknesses have been revealed in our system of financial regulation. ... These failures call for a reassessment of the roles of market discipline and our regulatory structures
," he said