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Understanding the Fed, Not Just the Myths

Politics / Central Banks Apr 07, 2010 - 12:38 PM GMT

By: EWI

Politics

Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleIf you would like to understand more about how the U.S. Federal Reserve works, you can spend some time on its website -- or you can get the real story. Elliott Wave International has collected eight of Robert Prechter's most trenchant articles about what the Fed actually does. He takes on the misleading myths about the Fed and explains what's really going on as he writes about these topics.


How the Fed manufactures money

  • How the Fed encourages the growth of credit -- and why that's deflationary
  • What gives the Fed the authority to bail out troubled institutions
  • The difference between creating money and facilitating credit
  • Whether the Fed can manipulate the stock market or economy
  • How the Fed is ignoring historical lessons about central banks
  • How the Fed's actions, combined with public outrage, may ultimately lead to its demise

The eBook with eight chapters is called Understanding the Fed: How to protect yourself from the common and misleading myths about the U.S. Federal Reserve. Here's an excerpt to give you a taste of what you will learn.

*****

The Fed's "Uncle" Point Is in View

Chapter 13 of Conquer the Crash is titled, "Can the Fed Stop Deflation?" The answer given there was an emphatic no. In barely a year the faith --and that's what it was--in the Fed's inflating power has pretty much died. Conquer the Crash quoted The Wizard of Oz, and now anyone can see that there is no magic: just a man yanking on levers and blowing smoke. Back in 1929, consortiums of big banks, using their depositors' money, tried to save the debt-laden stock market. They failed. This time, the new consortium was bigger: the Federal Reserve. But Conquer the Crash anticipated the end of that game, too: "The bankers' pools of 1929 gave up on this strategy, and so will the Fed if it tries it."

It is finally becoming obvious to everyone that the Fed is failing in extending its bag of tricks to stop deflation. The Fed's balance sheet now contains more than 50 percent mortgage and other bank debt. Perhaps the Fed is willing to blow the rest of its AAA assets in the form of Treasury bonds, but somewhere between now and then is the Fed's uncle point. The markets, however, are not so dumb as to wait for it. They can already see the end of that road, and they are moving now, ahead of it.

The Last Bastion against Deflation: The Federal Government Now that the downward portion of the credit cycle is firmly in force, further inflation is impossible. But there is one entity left that can try to stave off deflation: the federal government.

The ultimate source of all the bad credit in the U.S. financial system is Congress. Congress created the Federal Reserve System and many privileged lending corporations: Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Ginnie Mae, Sallie Mae, the Federal Housing Administration and the Federal Home Loan Banks, to name a few. The August 2008 issue cited our estimate that the mortgage-encouraging entities that Congress created account for 75 percent of all U.S. debt creation with respect to housing. For investors in mortgage (in)securities, the ratio is even greater. Recent reports show that these agencies, which have been stealing people blind by taking interest for nothing, account for a stunning 82 percent of all securitized mortgage debt.

Roughly speaking, the government directly encouraged the indebtedness of four out of five home-related borrowers. As noted in the August issue, it indirectly encouraged the rest through the Fed's lending to banks and the FDIC's guarantee of bank deposits. These policies allowed borrowers to drive up house prices to absurd levels, making them unaffordable to people who wanted to buy them with actual money. Proof that these mortgages are artificial and the product of something other than a free market is the fact that while Germany, for example, has issued mortgage-backed securities with a value equal to 0.2 percent of its annual GDP, the U.S. has issued them so ferociously that their value has reached 49.6 percent of annual GDP, a multiple of 250 times Germany's rate, and that is not in total value but only in value relative to the U.S.'s much larger GDP. (Statistics courtesy of the British Treasury.)

Do You Want to Really Understand the Fed? Then keep reading this free resource as soon as you become a free member of Club EWI. Join now!

Well, the ultimate source of this seemingly risk-free credit still exists, at least for now. When Bernake & Co. met in the back rooms of the White House in recent weekends, he must have said this: "Boys, we're nearly out of ammo. We have $400b. of credit left to lend, and we have two percentage points lower to go in interest rates. The only way to stave of deflation is for you to guarantee all the bad debts in the system." So far, government has leapt to oblige. One of its representatives strode to the podium to declare that it would pledge the future production of the American taxpayer in order to trade, in essence, all the bad IOUs held by speculators in Fannie and Freddie's mortgages for gilt-edged, freshly stamped U.S. Treasury bonds.

Now, what exactly does that mean for deflation? This latest extension of the decades-long debt-creation scheme has essentially exchanged bad IOUs for T-bonds. This move does not create inflation, but it is an attempt to stop deflation. Instead of becoming worthless wallpaper and 20-cents-on-the-dollar pieces of paper, these IOUs have, through the flap of a jaw, maintained their full, 100 percent liability. This means that the credit supply attending all these mortgages, which was in the process of collapsing, has ballooned right back up to its former level.

You might think this shift of liability is a magic potion to stave off deflation. But it's not.

Believers in perpetual inflation will ask, "What's to stop this U.S. government from simply adopting all bad debts, keeping the credit bubble inflated?" Answer: The U.S. government's IOUs have a price, an interest rate and a safety rating. Just as mortgage prices, rates and safety ratings were under investors' control, so they are for Treasuries. Remember when Bill Clinton became outraged when he found out that "a bunch of bond traders," not politicians determined the price of T-bonds and the interest rates that the government must charge? If investors begin to fear the government's ability to pay interest and principal, they will move out of Treasuries the way they moved out of mortgages. The American financial system is too soaked with bad debt for a government bailout to work, and the market won't let politicians get away with assuming all the bad debts. It may take some time for the market to figure out what to do about it, but as always, there is no such thing as a free lunch. The only question is who pays for it.

The Fed is nearly out of the picture, so the consortium of last resort, the federal government, is assuming the job of propping up the debt bubble. It is multiples bigger than any such entity that went before, because it can draw on the liquidity of American taxpayers and clandestinely steal value from American savers. So the question comes down to this: Will the public put up with more financial exploitation? To date, that's exactly what it has done, but social mood has entered wave c of a Supercycle-degree decline, and voters are likely to become far less complacent, and more belligerent, than they have been for the past 76 years.

An early hint of the public's reaction comes in the form of news reports. In my lifetime, I can hardly remember times when the media questioned benevolent-sounding actions of the government. Articles were always about who the action would "help." But many commentators have more accurately reported on the latest bailout. USA Today's headline reads, "Taxpayers take on trillions of risk." (9/8) This headline is stunning because of its accuracy. When the government bailed out Chrysler, no newspaper ran an equally accurate headline saying, "Congress assures long-run bankruptcy for GM and Ford." They all talked about why it was a good thing. This time, realism and skepticism (at a later stage of the cycle it will be cynicism and outrage) attend the bailout. The Wall Street Journal's "Market Watch" reports an overwhelmingly negative response among emailers. Local newspapers' "Letters" sections publish comments of dismay and even outrage. CNBC's Mark Haines, in an interview on 9/8 with MSNBC, began by saying ironically, "Isn't socialism great?" This breadth of disgust is new, and it's a reflection of emerging negative social mood.

Social mood trends arise from mental states and lead to social actions and events. Deflation is a social event. Ultimately, social mood will determine whether deflation occurs or not. When voters become angry enough, Congressmen will stop flinging pork at all comers. Now the automakers want a bailout. Voters have remained complacent about it so far, but this benign attitude won't last. The day the government capitulates and announces that it can't bail out everyone is the day deflationary psychology will have won out.

Do You Want to Really Understand the Fed? Then keep reading this free resource as soon as you become a free member of Club EWI. Join now!

Elliott Wave International (EWI) is the world's largest market forecasting firm. EWI's 20-plus analysts provide around-the-clock forecasts of every major market in the world via the internet and proprietary web systems like Reuters and Bloomberg. EWI's educational services include conferences, workshops, webinars, video tapes, special reports, books and one of the internet's richest free content programs, Club EWI.


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