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February 2, 2011

Bernanke: The Dollar System Is Flawed

Filed under: Uncategorized — bigcapital @ 9:18 am
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Bernanke: The Dollar System Is Flawed

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke’s speech in Frankfurt may be one of the most important and underreported events since America abandoned the gold standard. In it, he said the dollar standard was flawed and that America’s trade deficit was imperiling America.

 “[I]t would be desirable for the global community, over time, to devise [a new] international monetary system,” he said.

 Never before has a Fed chairman made such an admission. Never before has one ever disparaged his own currency in such a way.

“The speech was a radical departure from the status quo and a major signal for a looming policy change. It means that trade war is virtually guaranteed and the dollar will soon be devalued. Dramatic global economic upheaval is on the way. “

 On November 19, Ben Bernanke told a room full of bankers in Frankfurt, Germany, that the world’s sense of common purpose had waned. Tensions among nations over economic policies are intensifying, he said. It threatens the world’s ability to find a solution.

 U.S. unemployment rates are high, he told the gathering, and given the slow pace of economic growth, likely to remain so. Approximately 8.5 million jobs have been lost so far, and when you take into account population growth, the size of the employment gap is even larger, he said.

 Unemployment may get even worse before it gets better.

 “In sum, on its current economic trajectory the United Sates runs the risk of seeing millions of workers unemployed or underemployed for many years,” lamented Bernanke. “As a society, we should find that outcome unacceptable.”

 In an effort to win European allies, America’s most powerful banker then went on the attack—blaming China for causing much of the economic and trade imbalances destabilizing the current dollar-centric economic order and threatening the world’s economy.

 China is manipulating the market to keep its currency undervalued, he charged. This has led to imbalances.

 Each month China sells tens of billions of dollars more worth of goods and services to America than it purchases in return. Many American economists claim this is because of China’s undervalued currency, which makes Chinese goods less expensive in America and American goods more expensive in China.

 Coupled with China’s low-wage, low-taxation, low-regulatory, non-union environment, resulting in the relocation of millions of American jobs overseas, China has received a huge economic boost at America’s expense.

 This is a primary reason nations like China have fully recovered from the recession while America is still mired in it, noted Bernanke. America can no longer afford to let China drain the U.S. economy.

But what to do about it?

 “As currently constituted, the international monetary system has a structural flaw,” said America’s chief banker. The dollar system is broken. “It lacks a mechanism, market based or otherwise, to induce needed adjustments by surplus countries, which can result in persistent imbalances” (emphasis mine throughout).

“In the meantime, without such a system in place, the countries of the world must recognize their collective responsibility for bringing about the rebalancing required to preserve global economic stability and prosperity.”

 Thus Bernanke told his German audience to prepare for “market-based or otherwise” unorthodox—even radical—action by the Fed to try and force China to revalue its currency and rebalance the global economy.

 The “flaw” has been declared. But what is Bernanke going to do?

 “Bernanke is alerting the world to the most important shift in U.S. trade policy in more than a generation,” writes economic analyst and author Richard Duncan. “The world has been put on notice that the United States will take steps to correct this defect and the destabilizing trade imbalances it permits.”

 “If the flaw cannot be corrected through international coordination, then unilateral actions by the United Sates should be anticipated,” Duncan warns.

 And if history is a guide, that means tariffs and trade duties.

 The first major shots of trade war may be about to be fired—and the Fed has just given its blessing. If you look back on the 1930s and that disastrous time period, protectionism is lethally contagious and predictable. Global trade and commerce will contract. Import prices will rise. Unemployment will skyrocket. And that is just for starters.

 During the Great Depression, America was not burdened under record debt. The economy entered that age of trade warfare from a position of strength, and still the economy got ruthlessly battered.

 A trade-war-induced depression today would potentially be far worse—and not just because the United States has become the greatest debtor nation in all history, but because this time, the credibility of America’s government, its central bank and its currency, are all now in question.

 Besides tariffs, Mr. Bernanke’s declaration that the international monetary system is broken also means the Fed will engage in as much “quantitative easing” as necessary to compensate for what he sees as its “structural flaws.”

 During the G-20 meeting in South Korea two weeks ago, President Obama and Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner were forced to defend the Federal Reserve’s decision to print dollars to finance government spending and depreciate the value of the dollar.

 Foreign nations saw it as a way for America to renege on its debts.

 Bernanke’s Frankfurt defense of the Fed’s “quantitative easing” will do little to reverse that sentiment. “Fully aware of the important role that the dollar plays in the international monetary and financial system, the [Fed] believes that the best way to continue to deliver the strong economic fundamentals that underpin the value of the dollar, as well as to support the global recovery, is through policies that lead to a resumption of robust growth in the context of price stability in the United States,” Bernanke said.

 In order for America to support the value of the dollar, it will devalue it, said Bernanke. The incongruity is palpable—and surely wasn’t lost on America’s bond holders. Every time the Federal Reserve hits the “print” button, creating money out of thin air, it devalues the dollars in existence. America’s lenders (of which the Chinese are the largest) have been put on notice that they will be paid back in depreciated dollars.

 Be prepared for more quantitative easing—or, as it has become known overseas, quantitative fleecing.

 And be prepared for the Federal Reserve’s antics to succeed all too well.

 Foreign nations, and America’s foreign creditors, grow more dissatisfied with the dollar as the world’s reserve currency every day. The move to adopt a new reserve currency system is gaining momentum. When this happens, the Federal Reserve will get a whole lot more international cooperation in meeting its goals than it could have ever wanted.

 The Fed won’t be trying to devalue the dollar anymore—it will be doing everything it can to prop it up.

 Unfortunately, with faith in the dollar broken, the government unable to borrow money and a global trade war ravaging the U.S. economy, America will pine for the structurally “flawed” but comparatively good old days.

 “The speech was a radical departure from the status quo and a major signal for a looming policy change. It means that trade war is virtually guaranteed and the dollar will soon be devalued. Dramatic global economic upheaval is on the way.”

– MARKET TALK –

October 19, 2010

The Federal Reserve has talked itself into a corner QE2

Filed under: Uncategorized — bigcapital @ 12:21 pm
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The Federal Reserve has talked itself into a corner QE2

By making it clear the next step for monetary policy will be further quantitative easing, the Fed has ignited a frenzy of market activity. Investors’ experience was that the original round of QE triggered a massive rally in risk markets from their lows in the spring of 2009. So another round of QE justifies yet more speculative demand for assets. Speculative demand begets speculative demand.

Which brings us to where we are now–market expectations for something in the region of $1 trillion to $1.5 trillion of additional quantitative easing by the Fed. It’s also worth noting that the Fed’s QE is expected to be followed by yet more Bank of England and Bank of Japan action as well.

This raises two not inconsequential problems for investors: what if the Fed fails to deliver as much QE as the market demands; or what if it does and either it doesn’t work or works too well.

Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke hinted at some of the reasons the central bank might be reluctant to do as much as the market expects in his speech last week. He accepted that “nonconventional policies have costs and limitations that must be taken into account in judging whether and how aggressively they should be used.”

Other central bankers, including the Bank of England’s Paul Fisher, have begun to think publicly about the mechanics of how, when the time comes, to extract central banks from the vast amounts of quantitative easing they have done.

The more QE central banks do, the more of a dominant position they take in the markets in which they operate. The Fed, for instance, has an overwhelming position in U.S. securitized mortgages, while in the U.K., the Bank of England owns more than half of some gilt issues outstanding and at least 20% of the majority of the rest.

There should be no problems getting more sovereign debt onto central bank books, after all, the U.S., the U.K. and Japan will be running large deficits for a long time, so supply isn’t an issue. But what happens a few years down the line when governments continue to pump out supply but central banks also need to sell their holdings? If they do, they run the risk of creating disorderly markets. If they don’t they run the risk of inflationary consequences of debt monetization.

So central banks are likely to be cautious about what they do. But even if they fulfil market expectations, there’s the risk they fail to ignite underlying aggregate demand because the problem with economies isn’t the lack of liquidity but rather the need to deleverage from a debt binge. In which case, more QE could fail in its intention. Indeed, it could more than fail, but actually be damaging by stimulating speculative demand for commodities. This jump in commodity prices then eats into consumers’ pocketbooks, dragging demand down even further.

On one or other count, investors seem destined to suffer disappointment with QE2. And there’s not a lot central banks can do about it

October 6, 2010

A Losing Battle For The Bank Of Japan

Filed under: Uncategorized — bigcapital @ 6:44 pm
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LONDON — This is one battle the Bank of Japan will still lose.

The central bank’s attempt to weaken the yen against the dollar this week with more monetary easing may be more politically palatable than direct market intervention and even more cleverly designed to undermine the Japanese currency more over time.

But, its success is likely to be limited.

The dollar’s weakness is still driven largely by U.S. policy expectations rather than anything else.

The yen will also still find support from continued strong safe haven flows in its direction as well as from Japan’s continued current account surplus.

Sure, the Bank of Japan’s decision to cut its target interest rate to zero and to introduce a Y5 trillion package of temporary asset purchases Tuesday shows its determination to prevent the yen from rising any more, despite the essential failure of last month’s massive market intervention on September 15.

The further monetary easing also suggests that the central bank is now working more in harmony with the Ministry of Finance in the hope that together they can overcome Japan’s persistent deflationary pressures.

A fall in the country’s two-year government bond yields to a 5-year low and a decline in 10-year yields to a 7-year low certainly suggested that the central bank’s move should help to reduce support for the yen.

Also, if the central bank decides to intervene against the dollar again, the looser monetary policy should help to increase the chances of at least some success.

There was talk late Tuesday in New York of Japanese players close to the government, in the market buying dollars but nothing concrete was confirmed.

However, the Bank of Japan’s move has come only weeks before the U.S. Federal Reserve is expected to pursue its own increase in monetary easing.

Over the last few weeks, as the U.S. recovery has faltered badly, the Fed has made it plain that it is on standby to increase quantitative easing if needed. Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke upped the ante even more with a speech late Monday pointing to the success of the central bank’s initial QE exercise and suggesting that more easing could help the economy avoid a double dip recession.

Of course, the size and extent of the Fed move will have some bearing on just how much the dollar is depressed.

However, the chance of the yen making a sustained decline against the dollar, and bringing some relief for Japanese exporters, will also depend on safe haven flows.

In recent months, the yen has remained very much in favor, as concerns over the global economic recovery has encouraged investment flows out of riskier asset markets, including the dollar, and into safe havens, such as the yen.

See how the dollar has continued decline against the yen since the Sept. 15 intervention:

The yen will also continue to find support from Japan’s continued strong current account surplus, which ensures underlying support for the Japanese currency regardless of what the Bank of Japan and the Ministry of Finance are cooking up on policy.

Early Wednesday, the yen was holding very steady against the dollar–with the U.S. currency trading at Y83.15 at 0645 GMT compared with Y83.18 late Tuesday in New York.

The dollar was still under pressure elsewhere from expectations of further quantitative easing by the Fed next month.

The euro rose to $1.3853 from $1.3835 and to Y115.23 from Y115.11.

October 5, 2010

Fed boss: More securities buys could help economy

Filed under: Uncategorized — bigcapital @ 8:18 pm
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Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said Monday that the economy could be helped by another round of asset purchases by the central bank.

Bernanke’s comment reinforces analysts’ beliefs that the Fed is likely to take action at its next meeting Nov. 2-3.

The Fed is considering launching a new program to buy government debt, a move aimed at driving down rates on mortgages, corporate loans and other debt. It’s wrestling with how much it should buy.

“I do think the additional purchases — although we don’t have the precise numbers for how big the effects are — I do think they have the ability to ease financial conditions,” Bernanke said during a town-hall style meeting here with college students.

During the recession, the Fed ended up buying a total of roughly $1.7 trillion of mortgage securities and debt, as well as government bonds. Bernanke called that “an effective program.”

At its Sept. 21 meeting, the Fed signaled that it stands ready to take additional action if the recovery weakens.

Bernanke and other Fed officials have suggested that the Fed’s next likely step to help the economy is buying more government debt. The goal: get Americans to boost their spending, which would strengthen the economy and make businesses more inclined to increase hiring.

An idea gaining favor is for the Fed to start with a modest amount — perhaps $100 billion or less — and then decide on a meeting-by-meeting basis how much, if any, additional debt should be purchased.

Brian Sack, executive vice president at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, said in a speech Monday that he also sees a benefit in another round of asset purchases.

“The evidence suggests that the expansion of the securities portfolio to date has helped to foster more accommodative financial conditions, and further expansion would likely provide additional accommodation,” he said.

December 18, 2009

Fed To Leave Rates Low For ‘Extended Period’

Fed To Leave Rates Low For ‘Extended Period’

 

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve pledged Wednesday to hold interest rates at a record low to drive down double-digit unemployment and sustain the economic recovery.

The Fed noted that the economy is growing, however slowly. And turning more upbeat, it pointed to a slowing pace of layoffs.

Still, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and his colleagues gave no signal that they’re considering raising rates anytime soon. They noted that consumer spending remains sluggish, the job market weak, wage growth slight and credit tight. Companies are still wary of hiring, they said.

Against that backdrop, the Fed kept its target range for its bank lending rate at zero to 0.25 percent, where it’s stood since last December. And it repeated its pledge, first made in March, to keep rates at “exceptionally low levels” for an “extended period.”

In response, commercial banks’ prime lending rate, used to peg rates on home equity loans, certain credit cards and other consumer loans, will remain about 3.25 percent. That’s its lowest point in decades.

Super-low interest rates are good for borrowers who can get a loan and are willing to take on more debt. But those same low rates hurt savers. They’re especially hard on people living on fixed incomes who are earning measly returns on savings accounts and certificates of deposit.

Noting the stabilized financial markets, the Fed said it expects to wind down several emergency lending programs when they are set to expire next year. That seemed to strike a confident note that the Fed thinks it can gradually lift supports it provided at the height of the financial crisis.

The central bank made no major changes to a program, set to expire in March, to help further drive down mortgage rates.

The Fed in on track to buy a total of $1.25 trillion in mortgage securities from Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by the end of March. It has bought $845 billion so far. It’s also on pace to buy $175 billion in debt from those groups under the same deadline. So far, the Fed has bought nearly $156 billion.

Its efforts to lower mortgage rates are paying off. Rates on 30-year loans averaged 4.81 percent, Freddie Mac reported last week. That’s down from 5.47 percent last year.

The Fed said it has leeway to hold rates at super-low level because it expects that inflation will remain “subdued for some time.”
Fed policymakers repeated their belief that slack in the economy — meaning plants operating below capacity and the weak employment market — will keep inflation under wraps.

A government report out Wednesday showed that inflation is in check despite a burst in energy prices. Energy prices, however, are already in retreat.

Bernanke, who’s seeking a second term as Fed chief, has made clear his No. 1 task is sustaining the recovery. Last week, he and other Fed officials signaled they are in no rush to start raising rates.

At the same time, Bernanke has sought to assure skeptical lawmakers and investors that when the time is right, he’s prepared to sop up all the money. Some worry that the Fed’s cheap-money policies will stoke inflation.

Some encouraging signs for the economy have emerged lately. The economy finally returned to growth in the third quarter, after four straight losing quarters. And all signs suggest it picked up speed in the current final quarter of this year.

The nation’s unemployment rate dipped to 10 percent in November, from 10.2 percent in October. And layoffs have slowed. Employers cut just 11,000 jobs last month, the best showing since the recession started two years ago.

Still, the Fed predicts unemployment will remain high because companies won’t ramp up hiring until they feel confident the recovery will last.

Consumers did show a greater appetite to spend in October and November. But high unemployment and hard-to-get credit are likely to restrain shoppers during the rest of the holiday season and into next year.

-Financial Post-

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