David Einhorn's Three Questions For Ben Bernanke

From David Einhorn of Greenlight

The amount of media and market attention focused on whether the Federal Reserve will taper its quantitative easing (QE) would border on comical if it weren’t so serious. In August, the San Francisco Fed published an economic research paper that estimated that the $600 billion spent on QE2 added a meager 0.13% to real GDP growth in late 2010 (about $20 billion) and that the benefit fades after two years. Given that, what practical difference does it make whether the Fed buys a monthly $85 billion or $75 billion or no additional securities at all for that matter?

We maintain that excessively easy monetary policy is actually thwarting the recovery. But even if there is some trivial short-term benefit to QE, policy makers should be focusing on the longerterm perils of QE that are likely far more important. Here are some questions that come to mind:

  • How much does QE contribute to the growing inequality of wealth in this country and what are the risks this creates?
  • How much systemic risk does the Fed create by becoming what Warren Buffett termed “the greatest hedge fund in history”?
  • How might the Fed’s expanded balance sheet and its failure to even begin to “normalize” monetary policy four years into the recovery limit its flexibility to deal with the next recession or crisis?

No one is sure what the Fed is focused on. After spending several months bracing the market for fewer QE donuts, the Fed decided that it was premature to taper. Even a token reduction (from a baker’s dozen to a dozen?) was ruled out despite the fact that the economic trajectory has not materially changed. We responded the next morning with our own stimulus by ordering jelly donuts for the entire office.