Saturday, October 25, 2014

How far will they go?

From Doug Noland @ prudent bear .com CBR

"Seems an opportune time to revisit Fed governor Bernanke’s speech from almost 12 years ago, “Deflation: Making Sure ‘It’ Doesn't Happen Here.” Since Bernanke’s 2002 “U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press” dissertation, the Fed’s balance sheet has inflated from $800 billion to $4.5 TN. Treasury debt has inflated from about $4.5 TN to $12.6 TN. Total system marketable debt has jumped from about $30 TN to almost $60 TN. On the rate side, despite booming mortgage Credit growth, the Fed waited until June 2004 to nudge rates up 25 bps (to 1.25%). Rates didn’t make it to 4% until late 2005, just as mortgage Credit was wrapping up its fourth consecutive year of double-digit expansion. 

Bernanke: “But the U.S. government has a technology, called a printing press (or, today, its electronic equivalent), that allows it to produce as many U.S. dollars as it wishes at essentially no cost. By increasing the number of U.S. dollars in circulation, or even by credibly threatening to do so, the U.S. government can also reduce the value of a dollar in terms of goods and services, which is equivalent to raising the prices in dollars of those goods and services. We conclude that, under a paper-money system, a determined government can always generate higher spending and hence positive inflation. Of course, the U.S. government is not going to print money and distribute it willy-nilly (although as we will see later, there are practical policies that approximate this behavior). Normally, money is injected into the economy through asset purchases by the Federal Reserve. To stimulate aggregate spending when short-term interest rates have reached zero, the Fed must expand the scale of its asset purchases or, possibly, expand the menu of assets that it buys… Thus, as I have stressed already, prevention of deflation remains preferable to having to cure it. If we do fall into deflation, however, we can take comfort that the logic of the printing press example must assert itself, and sufficient injections of money will ultimately always reverse a deflation.

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