New Fed Chairman, Same Old Story

President Trump nominated Jerome H. Powell as the new Chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank. Don’t look for much to change. And Janet Yellen’s announcement that she will resign from the board upon Mr. Powell’s induction as board chair is pretty much a non-event.

Where we are today is the culmination of decades of irresponsible financial/fiscal policies and a complete abdication of fundamental economics. Continue reading “New Fed Chairman, Same Old Story”

The Fed’s 2% Inflation Target Is Pointless

Within the Federal Reserve sometime in 1996, a discussion took place among FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) members regarding the subject of inflation targeting. Federal Reserve District Governor (San Francisco) Janet Yellen believed that a little inflation “greases the wheels” of the labor market. Her preferred “target” was 2%. She asked Chairman (at the time) Alan Greenspan his preference.

The Chairman replied.  “I would say the number is zero, if inflation is properly measured.”

On the surface, it might seem that Chairman Greenspan is indicating that no inflation is preferable to “a little” inflation.  But that is contradictory to the actual mechanics of ongoing monetary action by the Fed since its inception in 1913.

The Federal Reserve creates inflation through ongoing expansion of the  supply of money and credit. Our fractional-reserve banking system is intrinsically inflationary – at the very least. And what did he mean by the parenthetical comment, “if inflation is properly measured”.

More likely, he was adopting the role of devil’s advocate and trying to promote further, active discussion among FOMC members. The results seem to indicate this.

In meetings the next day, Greenspan summarized the discussion: “We have now all agreed on 2 percent.” The Federal Reserve now had an internally stated, unofficial inflation target. Their own “guiding light”. But they didn’t want to talk about it publicly.  At least Greenspan didn’t.

He termed their discussion “highly confidential (in) nature” and said: “I will tell you that if the 2 percent inflation figure gets out of this room, its going to create more problems for us than I think any of you might anticipate.”

Ben Bernanke didn’t share Greenspan’s reservations.  He wanted everyone to know that the Fed’s inflation target was 2%.  But why?

One possibility is the need for justification.

Actions by the Federal Reserve are historically unclear as to logic and purpose. That allows for a modicum of privacy and the false descriptive of an independent Fed. It also suggests an aura of ‘special dispensation’ surrounding the Fed.

By late 2010, however, those notions were unravelling quickly as people wallowed in the after effects of the financial crises of 2007-08. Mr. Bernanke and his fellow practitioners of monetary medicine were seen as ineffective, at best, and appeared as if they did not know what they were doing.

Action was, in effect, demanded. And they were not afraid to pull the trigger. But they needed a clear, publicly observable target. How does anyone know you hit the target if they don’t know what you are aiming at?

Having a clearly acknowledged target changes the focus. Judgment is restricted to the new area of focus.  Did you hit the target or didn’t you?

This presumes that the target is justified, of course.  And if an inflation target is justified, why 2%?  Why not a lower number? Or any other number? In truth, it probably doesn’t make any difference.

From the Fed’s perspective, it gives them a license to openly discharge their firearms in the public square. If they miss, they can just reload and fire again.

Should they happen to hit the target, they can either maintain their current posture, or tweak it accordingly so as not to overshoot in the future.

But they will never “hit” their target.  Especially this one.  Why not?

Because it is a moving target, comprised of moving parts. And it is the result of the Fed’s own previous actions.

There is only one cause of inflation: government.  The term government also includes central banks, especially the US Federal Reserve Bank.

What most people refer to as ‘inflation’ or its causes are neither. They are the effects of inflation.   The “increase in the general level of prices for goods and services” is the result of the inflation that was already created.  …Kelsey Williams

Bernanke pushed until he got his way. A formal, precise inflation target rate of 2% was adopted at the FOMC meeting on January 24, 2012.

Five years later…

HEADLINE: The Fed’s Janet Yellen could use some target practice

Quote: Ever since the Federal Reserve adopted an explicit inflation target of 2% in 2012, the central bank has had limited success in hitting it. Only once, in fact, in the months between April 2012 and today, did the year-over-year increase in the personal consumption expenditures (PCE) price index breach 2%. …MarketWatch/Caroline Baum 12July2017

That shouldn’t be a surprise given that it’s a moving target.  But there is more to it than that.

Right now, the inability to hit the target serves as the Fed’s perfect excuse for not acting more decisively.  This is especially true with respect to raising interest rates. In addition, Ms. Yellen is afraid to do anything. Here’s why.

The bigger risk to the economy and financial stability is another credit collapse.  And they can’t claim ignorance as they did the last time. They know its coming. They just don’t know when.

The levels of debt, the convoluted intricacies of the derivatives market, the interwoven relationships within the shadow banking system are all at hugely more precarious tipping points than ten years ago.

And it is the Fed’s own inability to hit the 2% inflation target that is warning them.

Think of all the hundreds of billions of dollars that went into saving the system from collapse before. And then force feeding the money drug into the patient for another nine years.

The problem is that all of the beneficiaries (i.e patients) of the Fed’s assistance are now hard-core addicts. If the Fed tries to raise rates they could very easily trigger another collapse much worse than before.

The Fed continues to look for the effects of all of those hundreds of billions of dollars to show up in the ‘rate’ of inflation. Supposedly that would be a sign to them of improved economic activity and growth. That isn’t happening.

The reason is because most of the ‘help’ effects showed up in ever higher prices for financial assets (stocks and bonds) and real estate.

And all of those toxic assets (CDOs of every letter and color, and various other esoteric derivatives) have swollen in price to levels far beyond any reasonable value. In addition, far too many of them are resting quietly on the Fed’s balance sheet.

The Fed has actually blown another bubble much bigger than the previous one. Nothing fundamental has changed. The only difference is that the situation is worse than before. Now, out of fear, they are trying to steer a course between action and inaction.

The action, of course, is raising interest rates and offloading their own balance sheet. But their actions could trigger events similar to 2007-08. In which case the Fed’s image would forever be tainted. (I think this is more of a concern for Janet Yellen than her fellow board members.)

The inaction – doing nothing – is pretty much where things are currently. If the Fed maintains ZIRP (zero interest rate policy), the patient could overdose and slip into a coma.

The Fed’s 2% inflation target is an attempt to predict the effects of inflation. That’s impossible. It is also unwise as it reinforces the acceptance of a “little inflation” as normal, necessary. It isn’t.

A “little inflation” is why the U.S. dollar is worth ninety-eight percent less than in 1913 when the Federal Reserve originated.

(Read more about the Federal Reserve here)

 

 

 

The Fed’s Dilemma – Doing The Right Thing Won’t Help Janet Yellen Or Us

The Federal Reserve doesn’t know what to do.  That’s too bad.  For all of us.

The bigger problem is that it probably doesn’t make much difference what they do – or don’t do.  Continue reading “The Fed’s Dilemma – Doing The Right Thing Won’t Help Janet Yellen Or Us”

The Federal Reserve And Drug Addiction – A Prediction

The Federal Reserve Bank was established in 1913. Its stated purpose was to control the economic cycles; more specifically to avoid panics and crashes by smoothing out the variances in the stages (prosperity, inflation, recession, depression) of the economic cycle.

The plan centered around control (expansion and contraction) of the money supply and exertion of any influence it could muster regarding direction (up, down, or stable) of interest rates.

Before going further, lets talk for just a bit about drug addiction. Without being overly technical, lets briefly and generally look at the course of addiction; other than for purely experimental reasons, or peer pressure, or social association. Most addictive habits are the result of attempts to escape, or hide, or avoid problems and concerns.

What is most important, however, is the process itself and the effects of usage; both concurrent and cumulative.

An initial ‘fix’ will likely provide temporary relief and/or even induce a state of calm or euphoria. All good so far.

After a reasonably short period of time, the effects (for the most part) seem to dissipate and the individual returns to previous reality.  And, of course, after a brief interlude, is just as aware of the issues that were of concern previously.

Soon thereafter, the next attempt at escape is pursued.  But something is different.  This time the effects experienced are not as ‘positive’ as before and don’t last quite as long.  In addition, the aftereffects resulting from the ‘come down’ are more pronounced.

The seemingly logical next step for most users is to up the dosage; which is done. And the effects are more positive and might even last as long as the first time. But the aftereffects are worse.

The Federal Reserve has proclaimed their intention to manage the economic cycles. And, yes, they do believe they can. At least they say they can. And they have said that for decades. But, unfortunately, for them and  for us, they have not been able to do so and cannot do so. Not that they will admit that.

The Fed’s efforts at controlling the money supply are attempted in expectation of minimizing the effects of recession, maintaining financial and economic stability, promoting prosperity, and avoiding calamities like the Depression of the thirties.  Certainly those are commendable objectives. But are they even possible?

Likely not. And their track record thus far indicates more harm than good has come from their efforts.

The Fed has the tools to expand and contract the money supply. But on a continuous basis, and ongoing for over one hundred years, the focus is on expansion. And the net result of their cumulative expansionary efforts is a ninety-eight percent decline in the value of the U.S. dollar.

That is the price we have paid for hoping and believing that a small group of individuals can “manage the economic cycles” and avoid temporary and  short-term pain associated with the changes in the cycle.

As addiction to drugs becomes more intense, and the dosage and frequency increase, so do the cumulative negative effects. An individual who is habitually addicted starts to notice a breakdown in organs and systems within the body. And each succeeding fix or dosage supplies less and less of the intended effects; and doesn’t last as long.

As the reality of the addiction sets in, and all along the way, half-hearted attempts are made at kicking the habit. Get off the drugs and get better.  But in most cases, the shorter, temporary illusion of something better or something not as bad prevails. And so the destructive behavior continues.  But the withdrawal symptoms are worsening. Hence, any abstention is brief.

By now, death may very well be apparent. Continued usage will kill the patient. But the effects of withdrawal, by necessity, might pose just as great a risk. In other words, it just might be too late to do anything of lasting, positive, consequence. Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.

What we refer to as ‘inflation’ are really the effects of inflation that has already been created by the Fed.  The continued, ever-increasing expansion of money and credit destroys the value of existing money. Over time, as the existing money loses its value/purchasing power, the effects show up generally in the form of rising prices.

This is why it costs more today to buy life’s necessities (and luxuries) than it did ten years ago; or twenty years ago, etc. On a year-to-year basis it is usually not too noticeable. But sometimes the symptoms are exacerbated such as in the seventies.

The long-term results of reliance on the Fed’s infusions of money and credit have brought us to a similar juncture as that mentioned above in the drug addiction scenario.

As we become more dependent on the inflation to keep things going, the effects of each successive expansionary effort have less impact. And we become more vulnerable in two ways.

The first is an overdose. Too much money, too quickly, leads to complete destruction and repudiation – death – of the currency. The runaway or hyper-inflation in Germany in the 1920s is a defining example.

The second is a credit collapse. Not enough money at the right time and the patient slips into withdrawal. And the effects of withdrawal – monetarily speaking – could be so bad as to usher in true deflation and a full-scale depression.

Just as a drug addict must endure pain and discomfort in order to cleanse himself, so must it be with our monetary system. It is not the individual, per se, or the system that are at fault. The dilemma results from the  cumulative effects of repeated bad choices over long periods of time.

In 2008-09 our economy bordered on the verge of collapse. Think of the drug addict who has slipped into withdrawal and the accompanying symptoms have become almost unbearable.

Doing the right thing would have required enduring the pain while setting things straight. In order to effectively cure the patient, this means implementing sound monetary policy; admitting the failure of policies and actions that had been pursued for the past century; and resisting the temptation to avoid the necessary pain by relapsing into previous bad habits.

Unfortunately, the Federal Reserve chose to ramp up the dosage and increase the frequency.

The patient (U.S. dollar) has stabilized and is currently in recovery – temporarily. But full recovery is only possible if a purging and cleansing occurs. That won’t happen voluntarily; by the Fed, the U.S. Government, or by U.S. citizens.

The path chosen is one of managing the illness. The addict who wishes to avoid withdrawal and its often excruciating symptoms does something similar. Temporary comfort and illusion provided by regular doses of the drug – in this case, money – masks the pain and avoids the reality of the existing condition. And it leads eventually to death and destruction.

You cannot get better by killing yourself slowly, a little bit at a time.

What’s worse, however, is the increased likelihood that the entire system will collapse under its own weight, no matter how hard someone tries to avoid the inevitable consequences.

That is where the Federal Reserve (and U.S. Government) are today. It is exactly as we said earlier in referring to the addict who has passed the point of behavior modification and common sense having the desired effect.  Too much damage has been done. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

Something similar to 2008-09 is going to occur again. Only it will be much worse. And regardless of the traditional, reactionary talk and efforts to save us, the system will likely not withstand the “symptoms of withdrawal”.

Learn to enjoy things now; as they are currently. It probably won’t get much better than this.

(more about The Federal Reserve: A Game Of Chess And The Source Of The Federal Reserve’s Power)

 

 

 

 

 

A Game Of Chess And The Source Of The Federal Reserve’s Power

We have become pawns in the game of Chess being played by the Federal Reserve Bank.  Who is their opponent?  Anybody else who makes a move.

Week in, week out, everyone’s eyes and ears seem fixed on what the Federal Reserve Board will say or do.  Mostly, it is about what they say. That’s because they can’t really do much of anything. Continue reading “A Game Of Chess And The Source Of The Federal Reserve’s Power”