Best of the Week
Most Popular
1.UK House Prices Momentum Crash Threatens Mini Bear Market 2017 - Nadeem_Walayat
2.Perfect Storm - This Fourth Turning has Over a Decade of Continuous Storms to Come - James_Quinn
3.UK House Prices Momentum Crash Warns of 2017 Bear Market - Video - Nadeem_Walayat
4.Billionaire Investors Backing A Marijuana Boom In 2017 - OilPrice_Com
5.Emerging Markets & Basic Materials Stocks Breaking Out Together - Rambus_Chartology
6.Global Currency Reserve At Risk - Jim_Willie_CB
7.Gold and Silver: Your Stomach Is Probably Wrenching Right Now - The_Gold_Report
8.Warning: The Fed Is Preparing to Crash the Financial System Again - Graham_Summers
9.Basic Materials and Commodities Analysis and Trend Forecasts - Rambus_Chartology
10.Discover Why A Major American Revolution Is Brewing - Harry_Dent
Last 7 days
Bitcoin Hits New All-Time High Over $4,400 As It Catches Paypal In Total Market Cap - 17th Aug 17
3 Psychological Ingredients behind Great Web Content - 17th Aug 17
The War on Cash - Rogoff, Orwell and Kafka - 17th Aug 17
The Stock Market Guns of August, Trade Set-Up & Removing your Rose Tinted Glasses - 16th Aug 17
Stocks, Bonds, Interest Rates, and Serbia, Camp Kotok 2017 - 16th Aug 17
U.S. Stock Market: Sunrise ... Sunset - 16th Aug 17
The Next Tech Crash Could Delay Your Retirement by a Decade - 15th Aug 17
Gold and Silver Precious Metals Nearing Breakout - 15th Aug 17
North Korea Showdown: Pivotal Market Turning Point - 15th Aug 17
Tech Stocks DOT COM Bubble Do-Over? - 14th Aug 17
Deep State Conspiracy or Chaos - 14th Aug 17
From the Trans-Atlantic Axis and the Trans-Asian Axis - 14th Aug 17
Stock Market Intermediate Correction Underway - 14th Aug 17
The Islamic State Jihadi Pivot to Asia - 13th Aug 17
Potential Pivots Upcoming for Stocks and Gold - 13th Aug 17
North Korean Chinese Proxy vs US Military Empire Trending Towards Nuclear War! - 12th Aug 17
Gold Stocks Coiled Spring - 12th Aug 17
Neil Howe: The Amazon-Walmart Rivalry Will Determine the Future of Retail - 12th Aug 17
How to Alton Towers Half Price Discount Entry 2017 and 2018, Any Time, No Pre-Booking! - 12th Aug 17
Top 3 Technical Trading Tools Part 2: Relative Strength Index (RSI) - 11th Aug 17
What Makes Women Better Investors - 11th Aug 17
Crude Oil Price Precious Metals Link in August - 11th Aug 17
Influencer Marketing Predictions All Businesses Should Take Into Account - 11th Aug 17
Really Bad Ideas - Government Debt Isn’t Actually Debt - 10th Aug 17
Gold Sees Safe Haven Gains On Trump “Fire and Fury” Threat - 9th Aug 17
Why Is The Stock Market Not Trading On Fundamentals Lately? - 9th Aug 17
USD/CAD - Can We Trust This Breakout? - 9th Aug 17
New Monthly Rebate to Help Reduce Your Trading Costs - 9th Aug 17
Stock Market Divergences Are Now Appearing! - 9th Aug 17
Is Inflation an issue or did the Fed Mess Up? - 8th Aug 17
Top 3 Technical Trading Tools Part 1: Japanese Candlesticks - 8th Aug 17
Researchers Find $10 Billion Hidden Treasure In A Dead Volcano - 8th Aug 17
What Happened to Thousands of Sheffield's Street Trees 2017 - Fellings Documentary - 8th Aug 17
Solar, Bubble, Banks, War, and Legal Tender: Five Reasons Why You Should Buy Silver Now - 7th Aug 17
CRASH - If Some People Do It, Nothing Bad Happens, But If Everyone Does It, All Hell Breaks Loose - 7th Aug 17
Gold and Silver : The Battle for Control - 7th Aug 17
Precious Metals Sector is on Major Buy Signal - 7th Aug 17
Stock Market - Has Time Run Out? - 7th Aug 17
Get Ready for an Historic Upside Gold and Silver Run - 7th Aug 17
BOOM! Bitcoin Rockets To New All-Time High As Cryptocurrencies Surge Higher! - 7th Aug 17
U.S. Dollar: This Crash Signals the End - 6th Aug 17
Predicting The Price Of Gold Is A Fool’s Game - 6th Aug 17
Asda Sales Collapse and Profits Crash! UK Retailer Sector Crisis 2017 - 6th Aug 17

Market Oracle FREE Newsletter

3 Videos + 8 Charts = Opportunities You Need to See - Free

Bernanke's Credible Irresponsibility: The Logic Behind Cheap Money

Interest-Rates / US Interest Rates Jun 10, 2011 - 02:09 PM GMT

By: Ben_Traynor

Interest-Rates

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleDoes Ben Bernanke want us to trust him? Maybe not…

IN THE murky realm of economic policy, things are not always what they seem.


"When it becomes serious, you have to lie," Luxembourg's prime minister and chairman of the Eurogroup of finance ministers Jean-Claude Juncker reminded us a few weeks back.

So when Ben Bernanke tells us the Federal Reserve must be "vigilant in preserving its hard-won credibility for maintaining price stability", as he did last Tuesday, should we believe him?

Or is it just a feint? Is the Fed in fact perfectly happy to see its credibility ebb away, to the point – if we haven't reached it already – that no one at all believes it is serious about keeping a lid on inflation?

The question is not as far-fetched as you might think. Indeed, there is a body of economic theory that actively encourages "irresponsible" monetary policy.

The year is 1998. The US economy is growing, consumers are spending, and Washington is far more concerned with blue dresses and "improper relationships" than it is with federal debt limits or unemployment. 

But over in Japan, things are very different. Japan's economy has stalled. Growth has been stagnant for almost a decade. The Bank of Japan, in an effort to get things moving, has slashed interest rates to near-zero. It hasn't worked.

In May of that year economist Paul Krugman – who would later find fame and adulation as the New York Times' Conscience of a Liberal – offers a diagnosis. Japan is in a liquidity trap.

The liquidity trap, in economic theory, is a situation in which monetary policy is incapable of further stimulating the economy. Even an interest rate of zero, where the cost of borrowing money is essentially free (and the reward for saving nil) fails to encourage more spending or investment.

In his paper, Krugman offered two explanations for why a liquidity trap might occur:

  • The Deflation Explanation If prices are falling, then while the nominal rate of interest may be zero, the real rate, adjusted for changes in prices, would still be positive. In other words, saving cash for no nominal return would still leave you more spending power in future, because prices will be lower.
  • The Falling Incomes Explanation If incomes are falling – for example because of recession – then people will save now in order to have something to spend later. Similarly, businesses are unlikely to invest in new stock or greater productive capacity if their potential customers are getting poorer.

Note that what's important isn't just what is happening to prices and incomes right now, but what people expect will happen in future. This is why central bankers talk so much about credibility. They (attempt to) control inflation by influencing inflation expectations. If no one believes they'll achieve their targets, this is much harder.

To get consumers spending and businesses investing, then, it is not enough to cut interest rates to zero. Expectations need to be changed too.

The solution Krugman offered for Japan in 1998 can be summed up in a single word: inflation.

"The way to make monetary policy effective," he wrote, "is for the central bank to credibly promise to be irresponsible – to make a persuasive case that it will permit inflation to occur, thereby producing the negative real interest rates the economy needs." [Italics Krugman's].

In other words, if people believe prices will keep rising, there is no incentive to hang on to cash. Consumers may as well spend, and businesses may as well invest, since their money will be worth less tomorrow.

Maybe this is how western central bankers justify to themselves the ultra-low interest rates we see today. In their minds, so successful have they been at portraying themselves as tough on inflation, extraordinary measures are required to undo the "hard won credibility" they believe they have.
   
Perhaps too this was part of the logic behind quantitative easing – to convince us all that prices were rising, so we may as well hit the shops pronto.

There's just one niggling problem with this policy prescription...

It didn't work in Japan. And it hasn't worked in the West either...

Nevertheless, that's no reason to think central banks will give up now. After all, Japan's official policy rate has stayed below 1% since 1995...and last year the Bank of Japan lowered it to less than 0.1%.

Various statements by Bernanke suggest the Fed too is in no hurry to reverse its cheap money policy, and will wait for the economy to make the first move:

  • A few months later, in February 2010, Bernanke told Congress that an exit from the Fed's "accommodative policy stance" would "depend on economic and financial developments".
  • And now we have Tuesday's speech, in which the Fed chairman shared the latest diagnosis that although the economy "is moving in the right direction", production remains well below potential so "accommodative monetary policies are still needed". 

Then we have this post on the New York Fed's blog, lamenting "The Mistake of 1937" – when inflation fears led to the Fed abandoning the loose monetary policy that had prevailed since 1933.

Sure, the Fed may hold back on a third round of QE, at least for a while. Bernanke may even do a Jean-Claude Trichet, and raise rates a mere quarter-percent – as the European Central Bank did in April – so he can trumpet his "vigilance" on inflation.

Here at BullionVault we see little likelihood the Fed will significantly changing course any time soon. Returns on cash – after inflation – will remain negative until...well, until everything's fine, basically.

A bet on real interest rates turning positive is, in effect, a bet that the US economy will right itself. That it will generate sustained growth even though its budget deficit is officially forecast to be nearly 10% of GDP this year...even though national debt about to breach its statutory limit...and even though the government will, sooner or later, have to make some drastic spending cuts.

Anyone taking that bet will find no shortage of encouragement, especially from policymakers, who will continue to insist things are "heading in the right direction", and who will talk a good game on price stability. 

To take inspiration from Jean-Claude Juncker, though, when it becomes really serious, you have to see through the lies.

By Ben Traynor
BullionVault.com

Gold price chart, no delay   |   Buy gold online at live prices

Editor of Gold News, the analysis and investment research site from world-leading gold ownership service BullionVault, Ben Traynor was formerly editor of the Fleet Street Letter, the UK's longest-running investment letter. A Cambridge economics graduate, he is a professional writer and editor with a specialist interest in monetary economics.

(c) BullionVault 2011

Please Note: This article is to inform your thinking, not lead it. Only you can decide the best place for your money, and any decision you make will put your money at risk. Information or data included here may have already been overtaken by events – and must be verified elsewhere – should you choose to act on it.


© 2005-2017 http://www.MarketOracle.co.uk - The Market Oracle is a FREE Daily Financial Markets Analysis & Forecasting online publication.


Post Comment

Only logged in users are allowed to post comments. Register/ Log in

Catching a Falling Financial Knife