FEDging the figures

Both the US Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank are now offering limitless quantities of new money – the ECB to support the banks, and the Fed for reasons (despite explanations) that are not entirely clear. The Fed in its press release announced that it expected interest rates to “warrant exceptionally low levels for the Federal Funds Rate at least through late 2014.” The fact that the central banks governing the two most important currencies in the world are issuing money to all-comers at very little interest cost for up three years has not been lost on gold and silver, whose prices shot up in response to the Fed’s announcement.

The Fed has effectively extended its zero interest rate policy (ZIRP) for another 18 months. The reason stated is “low rates of resource utilisation and a subdued outlook for inflation in the medium run”. More important perhaps and unsaid is the presidential election due later this year and the need to finance a deficit that seems impossible to cut.

The Fed is running huge risks with its extended ZIRP, principally with monetary inflation morphing into price inflation. To help achieve its low inflation target the Fed uses the Personal Consumption Expenditures Price Index (PCEPI), which assumes that consumers switch spending from higher priced goods to those that are stable or falling. The result is that this index rises at about one-third less than the Consumer Price Index, which itself rises at less than half the CPI calculated on the more honest methodology used before 1980. The upshot is that the Fed uses inflation targets that are so heavily adjusted that they are effectively meaningless.

To the Keynesians at the Fed, subdued inflation is linked with a sluggish economy, and here the Fed is very selective in its approach. It admits that employment is picking up, and household spending “continues to advance”; but instead chooses to worry over slowing fixed investment and a depressed housing sector. Surely, whatever your views, there are enough signs of economic stabilisation to justify sitting on the fence, instead of committing to ZIRP for an extra 18 months.

I take the view that Gross Domestic Product is likely to surprise on the upside, as I wrote in an article for GoldMoney on 10 January. In that article I gave concrete reasons why, and suggested that money will begin to flow from capital markets into the economy. This is important, because GDP is only a money quantity and can rise without any underlying economic progression – the difference being reflected in the prices of goods and services. So GDP can actually rise with no underlying improvement in economic activity, it merely reflecting higher prices.

Changes in the prices of goods and services are actually impossible to measure and so cannot be quantified. Under-reporting price increases by using an index approximation such as the GDP deflator, which represents price inflation similarly to the PCEPI, artificially inflates real GDP. It will be interesting to hear what excuse the Fed comes up with then for the continuing for even longer with ZIRP. The reality is that the Fed and other central bankers are cornered and have only one tool left: issue as much paper money as it takes to prevent systemic financial calamity. This realisation is only just dawning on individuals with savings to protect, which is why precious metals were right to rise so sharply.

This article was previously published at GoldMoney.com.

4 Comments

  • Paul Marks says:

    The reason that the Fed is pumping up the money supply (beyond even the demented levels that Keynesian ideology would suggest) is very simple.

    To reelect President Barack Obama.

    The Federal Reserve clearly could not care less what happens in 2013 – as long as Barack is reelected in November 2012. Hence they are not only saying they will create unlimited amounts of money now – they are saying they will carry on doing it (years into the future) in order to keep up the “confidence” of those junkies (who are just as much junkies as drug addicts are – accept their “fix” is credit money) who make up Wall Street.

    Thus the economic crises is already “baked into the cake”.

  • Paul Marks says:

    By the way not just Ron Paul (who one would expect to be hostile to the Fed), but other Republican candidates have noticed what is going on.

    Both the insane “macro” policy (i.e. the unlimited increase in the money supply) and the corrupt “micro” elements of it (i.e. that certain enterprises are getting special treatment – for political reasons).

    The one candidate who seems to be basically silent on these matters?

    Mitt Romney (almost certainly the nominee – for example he is outspending Gingrich five to one in Florida right now, with Ron Paul and Rick Santorum nowhere).

    I do not have to check – I can feel the Goldman Sachs and J.P. Morgan Chase links to the Romney campaign (hedgeing their bets – they backed Obama, and most likely their people are still contributing, but they will contribute to Romney as well).

    And after Tuesday (when he wins in Flordia) all anti Obama people will have to rally round Romney – including me.

    Ouch.

    • Robert Sadler says:

      Hi Paul,

      Why bother rallying around Romney? He’ll be just the same as Obama.

  • Paul Marks says:

    Actually “Mitt” Romney is not a life long Marxist with a fanatical desire to utterly destroy the West.

    But apart from that you are correct – Romney does not have a clear understanding of political economy (a very different thing from an understanding of business) and shows no sign of developing a fundementally different economic policy.

    The difference is that Obama is more extreme – because he understands the destructive consequences of establishment policies (see Hunter Lewis “Where Keynes Went Wrong” for how Karl Marx mocked, and understood, what we now call “Keynesianism” decades before Keynes was even born) and Obama WELCOMES the prospect of those destructive consequences (just as he did at all those Cloward and Piven conferences back in the 1980s).

    Romney would do establishment things, which YES would not work – but when he watched everything collapsing around him he just MIGHT do something right (almost by accident).

    As it is not his INTENTION to destroy the West.

    A slim hope – but better than no hope.

Comments are closed.