One thing is for sure, Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke’s second round of quantitative easing (QE2) will come to an end sometime this month. Since November of last year the Fed has pumped close to $600 billion into the economy by buying treasury bonds from the balance sheets of banks. This was intended to keep interest rates low, encourage lending by banks, stabilize housing prices, and consequently stimulate growth in our economy. As of yesterday, interest rates are still low and banks have begun to lend some, but housing prices are lower than before QE2 began, economic growth has slowed, price inflation is significantly higher, and unemployment has climbed back up to 9.1 percent. For the average American trying to eke out a living, QE 2 has been an utter disaster. Of course for Wall Street banks it has been another bonanza courtesy of the Creature from Jekyll Island.
After all, Chase, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Bank of America are all doing fairly well given the general economic misery still experienced by the rest of us. Interest bearing reserves of depository institutions held at the Fed are way up and the Dow Jones Industrial Average is 1100 points higher than it was at the end of the first month of QE2. Why are these two facts so important? You see even though banks still are not lending a lot to businesses and ordinary Americans they are making huge amounts of profits using our money courtesy of the Fed to save at the Fed and invest in the stock market. Once again Bernanke inflates, his buddies on Wall Street cash in, and the rest of us are left holding the tab in the form of higher debt and prices.
The big question is what comes next? After QE2 expires will we see a QE3? Chances are good. Let’s be honest, the economy is still in awful shape. This is because Washington did not allow it to liquidate all the mal-investments from the financial crisis of 2008. The only thing that has kept the economy afloat is the monetary and fiscal stimulus coming out of Washington. The fact is that if Uncle Scam had let nature take its course and permitted the economy to crash there would have been intense short-term pain, but by now we would be well on the way to recovery. Instead, Bernanke and first Bush then Obama have pumped trillions into the economy to “stimulate” it back to health. What has transpired are new bubbles notably in the stock market and mergers and acquisitions.
And that is why I believe we will see QE3. When QE2 ends the money supply’s rate of growth will slow. Somewhat similar to an interest rate hike the end of Bernanke’s largess will put pressure on the new bubbles. Given that a presidential election is just around the corner and member banks will see their bottom lines slashed, Bernanke will accommodate his benefactors in the White House and on Wall Street by commencing QE3 to stave off the next crisis. The can will be kicked down the road at least until after Election Day 2012. Hundreds of billions of dollars more will be pumped into the economy. If you think price inflation is bad now you ain’t seen nothing yet.
The bottom line is that whichever course Bernanke chooses QE3 or no QE3 the economy will eventually have to crash. Because it was not allowed to do so in 2008 the crash will be bigger and probably longer in duration. So I guess I was wrong at the outset of this article. Two things are for sure. QE2 will end in June and inevitably Americans are screwed economically.
Kenn Jacobine teaches internationally and maintains a summer residence in North Carolina