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Showing posts with label Ben Bernanke. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Ben Bernanke. Show all posts

January 16, 2009

Ben Bernanke's Beard

Ben Bernanke and his beard have been working like dogs lately to pump out over a trillion dollars and save ourselves from a recession.  These extreme measures should be no surprise to many, he was hailed as a radical by The New Yorker long before he assumed his current responsibilities, but you can't be blamed for thinking he was just another boring bureaucrat keen on never rocking the boat.  Many have been fooled by that beard, the looks of which give the impression of a highly meticulous, erudite man that very likely wears inappropriate swimwear to the pool (I don't know Ben, I'm just guessing).  His current monetary policy is certainly radical but time will tell if his decision to print and pump trillions of dollars into the economy will have him hailed as an equal to the world's bearded legends (Lincoln, Karl Marx, 'Macho Man' Randy Savage, etc) or a pariah with whiskers.

There are two opposing opinions in response to his monetary policy; those who support the Fed and those who are wary of the consequences.  If you are seriously concerned about a difficult, painful recession (and possibly depression), then you are likely to agree with the amount of 'new' money being pumped into the system.  However, others who believe that the world isn't headed for so much gloom are concerned with the impending economic implications of increasing the money supply at a seemingly unrestrained rate, such as problems with high inflation and a crash of the U.S. dollar.

It's not a little bit of extra pocket change either, it's bags of it.  Even relative to what has been printed in the past, it is an astounding amount of money.  The chart below illustrates, essentially, the U.S. monetary base since the Second World War.  

That's right....vertical.  

As a result of all this money filtering into the market through vehicles like the $700 billion bailout package, a T-bill 'bubble' has been created.  T-Bills are attractive right now for a variety of reasons, but mainly because they are liquid, big, and you are guaranteed not to lose your money.  The government pledges the bond will be payed back to you and as a 'thank you', depending on what you paid for it, they include a little return for good measure.

These days, the returns have almost entirely been wiped out of the bonds, the 2 year U.S. T-Bill, for example, is yielding around  0.70% right now, as opposed to almost 2% 9 months ago.  That's minuscule.  The reason for this, of course, is that investors are chasing the T-Bill's security, which has driven the prices up, and dropped the yields.  Some may argue that the price is artificially high, or unsupportable, and is driven by all the 'new' money being pumped out by the federal presses, hence a 'bubble'.  However, it's not actually a bubble since the U.S. government is unlikely to default on its obligations, and everyone is virtually guaranteed to receive at least the face value of the bond at the end of their terms.  Ultimately though, these prices indicate that once investors feel there is some stability in the market and it is safe to come out from under the wing of the T-Bills, there will be high inflation and the U.S. dollar will fall. 

So, for those that find themselves intoxicated with Ben Bernanke's beard and current monetary policy, they should really think to restrain this unbridled love affair.  We only need to look at history to see how things may wind up.  In 2004, Alan Greenspan did much of the same as his successor to spurn the crash after the tech bubble burst.  A lot of the money that was produced by the Federal Reserve was loaned out to credit-worthy people who wanted homes, and when all of those people had been satisfied and there was still money left in the coffers, the non-credit worthy people received loans.  It turns out, people with bad credit don't usually pay their bills on time, some not at all.  

If his decision to churn out so much money does eventually result in a huge loss in the dollar and  $150 oil, high food prices, and other forms of painful inflation, the beard may be the only respectable thing left.