The Federal Reserve made a colossal gamble with its so-called “Quantitative Easing” or “QE,” which is simply a euphemism for its $4.4 trillion binge of buying long-term bonds and mortgages. Its big bid for long bonds, along with parallel programs undertaken by other members of the international fraternity of central banks, has artificially suppressed long-term interest rates, and has deliberately fostered asset-price inflations in bonds, stocks, and houses.
Will this gamble pan out?
The balance sheet of today’s Federal Reserve makes it the largest 1980s-model savings and loan in the world, with a giant portfolio of long-term, fixed rate mortgage securities combined with floating rate deposits. This would certainly have astonished the legislative fathers of the Federal Reserve Act like Congressman and then Senator Carter Glass, who strongly held that the Fed should primarily be about discounting short-term commercial notes.
“The sole use of money is to circulate consumable goods.” – Adam Smith
In a recent op-ed for the Wall Street Journal, Morgan Stanley economist Ruchir Sharma observed that while the world is seemingly “turning inward,” this comes “in a period when countries are more beholden than ever to one institution, the U.S. Federal Reserve.” Interesting about Sharma’s piece is that if anything, it revealed the Fed’s growing irrelevance.
Ben Bernanke’s new book, The Courage to Act, demonstrates throughout its 579 pages the fundamental uncertainty faced by central bankers, Treasury officers, and everybody else when dealing with financial cycles, panics and recoveries. “But if the last few years had taught us anything, it was that we had to be humble about our ability to detect emerging threats to financial stability,” he writes.