The End of the Bernanke Put is Here
For well over a year, even after Ben Bernanke admitted that the consequences of QE outweighed the benefits, the financial media world is awash with claims that QE 3 is just around the corner. It doesn’t matter than it’s been over a year. Nor does it matter that the Fed has staged 10 FOMC meetings without launching more QE, everyone claims QE is coming.
Guess what? It’s not. And I’m going to lay this idiotic theory to rest right here and now.
First off, the Fed cannot launch QE because of the political climate in the US. In case you missed it, the last time the Fed engaged in a large monetary move (outside of just extending some pre-existing policy) was in November 2011 when it facilitated a coordinated Central Bank move to lower the pricing on the existing temporary U.S. dollar liquidity swap arrangements.
The political response to this was extreme. Every GOP candidate under the sun began to target the Fed. Some began calling for Bernanke to be fired. Meanwhile, Obama became totally silent on defending the Fed. Let that sink in for a moment. Obama, who reappointed Bernanke, didn’t defend Bernanke’s actions. In fact he acted as if nothing had happened.
The message was clear: the Fed had become politically toxic and if Obama wanted a shot at re-election, he needed to distance himself from the Fed.
It was only a few months later that the Fed went into full on damage control mode by increasing its town hall meeting efforts (Bernanke now goes to colleges to explain why the Fed is great), writing complaints about how the media is presenting its moves during the financial crisis along, and of course the now famous “Bernanke’s a normal guy who drives a Sebring and reads a Kindle” article in the Wall Street Journal.
Consider that Bernanke, only a few years ago, lied to Congress about monetizing debt. Around that same time the Inspector General in charge of oversight of the Fed said that the Fed:
1) Didn’t know where it was sending hundreds of billions of Dollars.
2) Had not launched any investigations into where the money had gone
3) Had not launched any investigations into why Lehman Brothers had been allowed to fail
Has everyone forgotten this? Bernanke, the savior of capitalism, Time Magazine’s Man of the Year, and arguably the most powerful human being in terms of monetary clout ON THE PLANET is now going into classrooms to explain why the Fed is wonderful and should continue to exist.
Even more than that, he’s having his favorite mouthpiece at the Wall Street Journal portray him as a normal American who drives a US car and reads his kindle. This is the HEAD OF THE FED we’re talking about. Since when does Bernanke need anyone to depict his private life? The guy used to tell the media to get stuffed when it snooped around the Fed’s actions… now he’s openly going to the media asking to get profiled?
Folks, the political game has changed in the US. The Fed is no longer invulnerable. In this climate more QE cannot possibly happen. End of story. Indeed, if the Fed were to launch QE at any time between now and the election, Obama is DONE. The last possibly chance for QE without it being a clear hand-out to Obama (and a gift from the political gods to Romney) was June. The Fed passed on that.
Don’t believe me? Why do you think Obama is privately begging Germany and EU leaders to keep the EU together until after November? He knows the Fed cannot step in and save the day without killing his chances at re-election. END. OF. STORY.
Finally, there’s a simple monetary reason the Fed cannot engage in more QE: BANKS NEED TREASURIES. Treasuries are the ONLY senior asset on bank balance sheets that are increasing in value (don’t even try to claim that mortgage bonds, corporate bonds or muni bonds are attractive to banks given what the banks know about the ongoing debt crisis in the world).
More QE pushes the US Dollar down. So for the Fed to engage in more QE would mean the Fed would be buying appreciating assets from the banks (which can be leveraged up for trades… remember all the big banks are now basically hedge funds) in exchange for cash which yields next to nothing and would be depreciating in value if more QE was announced.
The banks need all the Treasuries they can get their hands on. I know, I know, ultimately Treasuries will be worth much less when the debt crisis hits the US. But it hasn’t yet.
If you’re a large bank what would you rather own? Treasuries or some other sovereign bond which either yields nothing (Germany, Japan, France) or which is about to default (the PIIGS and others)?
The answer is obvious. You want Treasuries. We’re not talking about ideals here; we’re talking about reality. And in today’s financial reality, Treasuries are the best senior most asset a bank can buy. WHY would a bank want to hand these off to the Fed for cash, which yields nothing?
I could go on and on, but the reality is the above arguments alone erase any reason for the Fed to launch QE any time soon, if ever. The ONLY reason the Fed would launch QE would be if liquidity needs were so desperate for the banks that the would be willing to give up their senior most assets in exchange for cash to meet day to day liquidity needs.
And if we get to that point in the US again, QE will be the LAST of our worries.
So, QE is not coming. End of story. You can continue to argue otherwise based on some idealistic view of the world, but the reality is Europe and Japan’s bond markets are both on the brink of collapse. US banks want all the Treasuries they can get. In a perfect world, they’re not great investments, but they’re far more attractive that the alternatives in the REAL world.
So… if you’re still investing based on the idea that QE is coming and that the Bernanke Put is firmly in place, you’re going to be in for a HUGE surprise in the coming months. QE isn’t coming. And the Bernanke Put is losing its credibility rapidly.
Which means… the primary prop underneath the US stock market and financial system (namely Fed intervention) is slowly being removed. What follows will not be pretty and smart investors should be taking steps now to prepare in advance.
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