Here We Go Again

The week before last, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke emerged from a Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting and proclaimed that the FOMC came to the conclusion that it may be “appropriate to moderate the pace of (bond) purchases later this year” if the economy continues to improve.  Mind you, he didn’t say the Fed would syphon liquidity out of the economy, simply that it might cut back on its buying of bonds if conditions warranted it.

What happened next was remarkable.  The price of gold dropped $100 an ounce, silver was down 8 percent, the yield on 5 year U.S. Treasury bonds surged by its largest percentage ever, and over a two day period the Dow lost more than 500 points.

Arguably, Bernanke and the FOMC are America’s version of the old Soviet Politburo – central economic planners that thwart the will of the market.  By having ultimate and unfettered control of monetary policy this small economic oligarchy has practically complete control of our economy. The question is, why do we tolerate this?

It’s not just what the Fed chairman says that is a problem; it’s what he does that is even more intolerable.

Albert Einstein use to say, insanity is “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”.  Under this definition, Bernanke is insane.

He has made no bones about the fact that his policies since 2008 were meant to make Americans feel more prosperous so they would start spending again and stimulate the economy back to good health.  In essence, his goal was to re-inflate the housing and stock market bubbles.  According to recent statistics he has done just that.

Nationally, the median price for existing single-family homes was $178,900 in the fourth quarter of 2012, up 10 percent over the same period in 2011.  This marked the greatest year-over-year price increase since the fourth quarter of 2005.

Southern California, Silicon Valley, Washington D.C., and New York City are all experiencing huge real estate booms with prices for pre-construction condos in Manhattan increasing on a bimonthly basis.

There is even a farmland bubble taking place in the Midwest and Mountain states with non-irrigated cropland prices increasing on average by about 18 percent.

In terms of the stock market, it’s no secret that the Dow has surpassed its previous high.  Given Bernanke’s remarks and the subsequent crash of the Dow last week, there is clearly causation between Fed pumping and stock market performance.

But, in all of this “good” news there are reasons to believe that Bernanke’s policies are leading us to another crisis.  Unemployment and underemployment are still high and incomes are down, so where is the money coming from to cause real estate prices to rise dramatically?    It is from speculators and Wall Street firms eager to invest the cheap money they’ve gotten from the Fed.  The problem is that all that cheap money will cause over-investment in the housing market – the production of more homes than are needed.  Once that happens and interest rates rise the bust will come leaving mom and pop homeowners once again holding mortgages against falling property values.

And there is a big reason to be concerned about the booming stock market.  Buying stock on margin reached an all-time high in April at $384.3 billion.  Historically, whenever margin debt has exceeded 2.25 percent of GDP the market has crashed.  This happened in 1929, 2000, and 2007.  Does this mean the market will crash soon?  No one knows for sure, but one thing is certain, Bernanke’s easy money has clearly re-inflated the stock market bubble, setting up mom and pop investors for another dramatic crash.

Thus, Bernanke has been successful in attaining his goal of re-inflating both the housing and stock market bubbles.  However, his policies have not produced an economic recovery as he believed.  In fact, they have brought us to the brink of another crisis.  It’s no wonder since he employed the same approach that produced economic crisis in the past.

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