Monday, August 5, 2013

Fisher Reviews Costs of QE
In a speech today, FRB-Dallas President Richard Fisher reviews the costs of QE. He acknowledges that the Fed’s bond-buying program has been stimulative:
[D]riving down mortgage rates has certainly assisted a robust recovery in housing, and with it, construction jobs and manufacturing and transportation of materials that go into homes. This was clear from reading the components of the Institute for Supply Management’s manufacturing index released last Thursday, which showed the biggest one-month jump since 1996. Very liberal financing terms for automobiles that we have induced have coincided with an aging of the nation’s auto fleet to regenerate domestic auto sales to the 15.7 million units level.
Then he goes on to outline the major costs of QE:
Counteracting whatever benefits one can trace to the Fed’s unorthodox policies are some obvious costs. First, savers and others who rely on retirement monies invested in short-maturity fixed-income investments, such as bank CDs and Treasury bills, have seen their income evaporate while the rich and the quick, the big money players of Wall Street have become richer still.

Second, the standard return assumptions of 7.5 to 8 percent for retirement pools, as you well know, have been dashed (though I have always felt they were already calculated on an imaginary and politically convenient basis rather than a realistic one).

Third, accompanying the Fed’s growing balance sheet we have seen a dramatic expansion in the monetary base—the sum of reserves and currency. Currently, much of the monetary base has piled up in the form of excess reserves of banks who have not found willing or able borrowers. Other forms of surplus cash are lying fallow on the balance sheets of businesses or being deployed in buying back shares and increasing dividend payouts so as to buttress company stock prices. A basic understanding of demand-pull inflation is “too much money chasing too few goods.” Thus, the excess, currently nondeployed money could prove the kindling of an inflationary conflagration unless the Fed is nimble in managing its effect as it works its way into the economy’s production and consumption of goods and services.

A corollary of reining in this massive monetary stimulus in a timely manner is that financial markets may have become too accustomed to what some have depicted as a Fed “put.” Some have come to expect the Fed to keep the markets levitating indefinitely. This distorts the pricing of financial assets, encourages lazy analysis and can set the groundwork for serious misallocation of capital.

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