December 3, 2022

Federal Reserve Policies Have Put The Nation On The Road To Economic Chaos

By Axel Merk

The FOMC has crossed the Rubicon: our analysis suggests that the Federal Open Market Committee is deliberately ignoring data on both growth and inflation. At best, the FOMC’s intention might have been to not rock the markets two weeks before the election. At worst, the FOMC has given up on market transparency in an effort to actively manage the yield curve (short-term to long-term interest rates):

  • On growth, economic data, including the unemployment report, have clearly come in better than expected since the most recent FOMC meeting. FOMC practice dictates that progress in economic growth is acknowledged in the statement. Instead, the assessment of the economic environment is verbatim. Had the FOMC given credit to the improved reality, the market might have priced in earlier tightening. The FOMC chose to ignore reality, possibly afraid of an unwanted reaction in the bond market.
  • On inflation, the FOMC correctly points out that inflation has recently picked up “somewhat.” However, it may be misleading to blame the increase on higher energy prices, and then claim that “longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable.” Not so, suggests an important inflation indicator monitored by the Fed and economists alike: 5-year forward, 5-year inflation expectations broke out when the Fed announced “QE3”, its third round of quantitative easing where the emphasis shifted from a focus on inflation to a focus on employment. This gauge of inflation measures the market’s expectation of annualized inflation over a five year period starting five years out, ignoring the near term as it may be influenced by short-term factors:
Inflation Expectations

The chart shows that we have broken out of a 2 standard deviation band and that the breakout occurred at the time of the QE3 announcement. In our assessment, the market disagrees with the FOMC’s assertion that longer-term inflation expectations have remained stable. At best, the FOMC ignores this development because they also look at different metrics (keep in mind that the Fed’s quantitative easing programs manipulate the very rates we are trying to gauge here) or has a different notion of what it considers longer-term stable inflation expectations. At worst, however, the FOMC is afraid of admitting to the market that QE3 is perceived as inflationary.

In our assessment, inflation expectations have clearly become elevated. Ignoring reality by ignoring growth and inflation may not be helpful to the long-term credibility of the Fed. Fed credibility is important, as monetary policy becomes much more expensive when words alone don’t move markets anymore.

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Axel Merk

Axel Merk is President and Chief Investment Officer, Merk Investments
Merk Investments, Manager of the Merk Funds

The Fed’s Efforts To “Print” New Jobs Is Failing – What Does The Fed Do Next?

In an effort to expand credit and spur job creation, the Federal Reserve has massively expanded its balance sheet with the most aggressive monetary policies in the history of the Federal Reserve.  Since the start of the financial crisis, the Fed instituted two rounds of quantitative easing under which over $2.75 trillion of debt securities were purchased by, in effect, printing money.

The first two phases of quantitative easing resulting in soaring stock and gold prices but did little to reduce the unemployment rate which has remained stubbornly high.  In early September, Fed Chairman Bernanke went all in on his aggressive monetary policies with the announcement of QE3 under which the Fed will conduct open-ended asset purchases.

The Federal Reserve said it will expand its holdings of long-term securities with open-ended purchases of $40 billion of mortgage debt a month in a third round of quantitative easing as it seeks to boost growth and reduce unemployment.

“We’re looking for ongoing, sustained improvement in the labor market,” Chairman Ben S. Bernanke said in his press conference today in Washington following the conclusion of a two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee. “There’s not a specific number we have in mind. What we’ve seen in the last six months isn’t it.”

Stocks jumped, sending benchmark indexes to the highest levels since 2007, and gold climbed as the Fed said it will continue buying assets, undertake additional purchases and employ other policy tools as appropriate “if the outlook for the labor market does not improve substantially.”

Bernanke is enlarging his supply of unconventional tools to attack unemployment stuck above 8 percent since February 2009, a situation he called a “grave concern.”

Bernanke said the open-ended purchases would continue until the labor market improved significantly. “We’re not going to rush to begin to tighten policy,” he said. “We’re going to give it some time to make sure that the economy is well established.”

While the U.S. has “enjoyed broad price stability” since the mid-1990s, Bernanke said, “the weak job market should concern every American.”

Although Bernanke’s goal is laudable, many consider his extreme monetary policies ineffective while massively debasing the value of the U.S. currency.  Printing money is not the primary precursor for job creation or increased national wealth, and the latest economic results prove this assertion.  Sales revenues of America’s largest corporations have declined for six consecutive quarters and companies have fired the largest number of employees since 2010.

Courtesy Wall Street Journal

If economic conditions continue to deteriorate, expect Bernanke to implement even more extreme unconventional monetary policies,  all of which would involve money printing on an unimaginable scale.

The ludicrous assertion by Fed Chairman Bernanke that the U.S. has “enjoyed broad price stability” since the 1990’s is revealed as an outright falsehood by the Fed’s own statistics on the loss of purchasing power of the U.S. dollar.  Meanwhile, gold, the only currency with any intrinsic value is reflecting the true extent to which the U.S. dollar has been debased by Fed policies.  As the economy weakens and the Fed expands its monetary madness, the price of gold will continue to soar.

 

The Fed’s Outrageous Attempt To Debase The Dollar Will Send Gold Soaring

By Axel Merk

Doubling down on QE3, the Federal Reserve (Fed) Chairman Bernanke tells China and Brazil: allow your currencies to appreciate. One does not need to be a rocket scientist to conclude that Bernanke wants the U.S. dollar to fall. Is it merely a war of words, or an actual war? Who is winning the war?

The cheapest Fed policy is one where a Fed official utters a few words and the markets move. Rate cuts are more expensive; even more so are emergency rate cuts and the printing of billions, then trillions of dollars. As such, the Fed’s communication strategy may be considered part of a war of words. Indeed, the commitment to keep interest rates low through mid 2015 may be part of that category. But quantitative easing goes beyond words: QE3, as it was announced last month, is the Fed’s third round of quantitative easing, a program in which the Fed is engaging in an open-ended program to purchase Mortgage Backed Securities (MBS). To pay for such purchases, money is created through the strokes of a keyboard: the Fed credits banks with “cash” in payment for MBS, replacing MBS on bank balance sheets with Fed checking accounts. Through the rules of fractional reserve banking, this cash can be multiplied on to create new loans and expand the broader money supply. The money used for the QE purchases is created out of thin air, not literally printed, although even Bernanke has referred to this process as printing money to illustrate the mechanics.

Why call it a war? It was Brazil’s finance minister Guido Mantega that first coined the term, accusing Bernanke of starting a currency war. Here’s the issue: like any other asset, currencies are valued based on supply and demand. When money is printed, all else equal, supply increases, causing a currency to decline in value. In real life, the only constant is change, allowing policy makers to come up with complex explanations as to why printing money does not equate to debasing a currency. But even if intentions may have a different primary focus, our assessment is that a central bank that engages in quantitative easing wants to weaken its currency. It becomes a war because someone’s weak currency is someone else’s strong currency, with the “winner” being the country with the weaker currency. The logic being a weaker currency promotes net exports and GDP growth. If the dollar is debased through expansionary monetary policy, there is upward pressure on other currencies. Those other countries like to export to the U.S. and feel squeezed by U.S. monetary policy. Given that politicians the world over never like to blame themselves for any shortcomings, the focus of international policy makers quickly becomes the Fed’s monetary largesse.

Bernanke speaking at an IMF sponsored seminar in Tokyo pointed to the other side of the coin: if China, Brazil and others don’t like his policies because they create inflation back home, they should allow their currencies to appreciate. But these countries are reluctant as stronger currencies lead to a tougher export environment.

Now keep in mind that it is always easier to debase a currency than to strengthen it. Switzerland, the previously perceived safe haven by many investors, has taken the lead. Using a central bank’s balance sheet as a proxy for the amount of money that has been printed, the Swiss National Bank’s printing press has surpassed that of the Federal Reserve considering relative growth since August 2008. Again note that no real money has been directly printed in these programs; also note that some activities, such as the sterilization of bond purchases by the European Central Bank, cause a central bank balance sheet to grow, even if sterilization reflects a “mopping up” of liquidity:

Japan has warned about intervening in the markets on multiple occasions, but the size of the Japanese economy as well as the lack of political will make an intentional debasement more difficult. Indeed, the Japanese did their money printing in the 1990s, but forgot we had a financial crisis in recent years.

Bernanke does acknowledge the concerns of emerging markets, but argues they are blown out of proportion. He elaborates that undervaluation and unwanted capital inflows are linked: allow your currencies to appreciate (versus the dollar) and you won’t have to be afraid of excessive capital inflows, inflation and asset bubbles. Ultimately, and importantly, Bernanke says the Fed will continue its course, suggesting that it will strengthen the U.S. economic recovery; and by extension, strengthen the global economy.

Let’s look at the issue from the viewpoint of emerging markets: policy makers like to promote economic growth, among other methods, through a cheap exchange rate, up to a certain point. They don’t want too much inflation or too many side effects. Historically, they manage these side effects with administrative tools. However, taking China as an example, taming price pressure through, say, price controls, has not been very effective. We believe that’s a good thing, as China would otherwise experience product shortages akin to what the Soviet Union experienced. Conversely, however, China must employ a broader policy brush to contain inflationary pressures. We believe – and Bernanke appears to agree – currency appreciation is one of the more effective tools.

So how will this currency war unfold? The ultimate winner may well be gold. But as the chart above shows, it’s not simply a race to the bottom. If one considers what type of economy can stomach a stronger currency, our analysis shows an economy competing on value rather than price has more pricing power and therefore the greater ability to handle it. Vietnam mostly competes on price; as such, the country has, more than once, engaged in competitive devaluation. At the other end of the spectrum in emerging markets may be China: having allowed its low-end industries to move to lower cost countries, China increasingly competes on value. Within Asia, we believe the more advanced economies have the best potential to allow their currencies to appreciate. It’s not surprising to us that China’s Renminbi just recently reached a 19-year high versus the dollar.

What we have little sympathy for is an advanced economy, e.g. the U.S., competing on price. We very much doubt the day will come when we export sneakers to Vietnam. As such, a weak dollar only provides the illusion of strength with exports temporarily boosted. Yet the potential side effects, from inflation to the sale of assets to foreign investors with strong currencies, may not be worth the risk.

Please register to join us as we discuss winners and losers of the unfolding currency wars in our Webinar this Thursday, October 18, 2012.

Axel Merk is President and Chief Investment Officer, Merk Investments
Merk Investments, Manager of the Merk Funds.

“Gold Is Not Money” – Ron Paul Shreds Bernanke

Ben Bernanke’s head must have been spinning after Ron Paul’s rapid fire series of questions on gold at a hearing by the House Financial Services Committee.

Ron Paul’s confrontational and decisive questioning left the former Princeton professor looking uncomfortable and befuddled.

Ron Paul started off by noting that instead of spending $5.1 trillion bailing out banks and enriching corporations with no discernible economic benefit, the Fed could have simply given each and every American $17,000.  Ron Paul also suggested that the huge amount of money injected into the economy by the Fed has caused a real inflation rate of about 9%, far above the government inflation statistics.

Bernanke, obviously annoyed with Paul’s remarks started to elaborate on why the Fed was actually a “profit center” for the government, but was quickly cut off by Ron Paul who noted that he had only five minutes of allocated time to ask questions.

Ron Paul then followed up with a series of devastating questions that left the Chief Money Printer reeling.

Paul:  “When you wake up in the morning do you care about the price of gold?”

Bernanke:  “I pay attention to the price of gold.  I think it reflects a lot of things. It reflects global uncertainties. I think the reason people hold gold is as protection against what we call tail risks, really, really bad outcomes. And to the extent that the last few years have made people more worried about the potential of a major crisis they have gold as a protection.”  (Editor’s note: Gold has been steadily rising for the past ten years.)

Paul: “Do you think gold is money?”

Bernanke: (after a long awkward pause) “No, it’s not money, it’s a precious metal”.

Paul:  “So even if it’s been money for the past 6,000 years, somebody reversed that, eliminated that economic law?”

Bernanke:  ”It’s an asset.  Would you say Treasury bills are money? I don’t think they’re money either but they’re a financial asset.”

Paul:  “Why do central banks hold it?”

Bernanke:  “Well it’s a form of reserve”.

Paul:  “Why don’t they hold diamonds?”

Bernanke: “Well it’s tradition, long term tradition”.

It’s unfortunate that Ron Paul was only allowed to question the Fed Chief for five minutes.  In a couple of hours, Ron Paul would have shredded the foundations of the dollar’s value.  In an interview with thestreet.com, Ron Paul says “Gold, if you pick up a coin minted 6,000 years ago, you’d still have your money. If you pick up a piece of paper printed a year ago, it might be worth half its value. So history is on my side of the argument.”  Gold as money has retained its value over the millennia – does anyone really expect any modern currency to retain value over the long term?

In Bernanke’s world he is right – gold is not money.   All contemporary monetary systems are now based on fiat money with no intrinsic value other than the full faith and credit of the government issuer.  Unfortunately, the world’s short term experiment with a fiat money system seems to be swirling towards financial disaster in Europe as nation after nation totters at the edge of default.

The real disaster is that the hoax of fiat currency has been very effectively promoted by Bernanke, Governments and Central Banks.  The middle class citizens of most countries still hold the unshakeable, religious conviction that their paper money will retain its value because it is backed by an all powerful government that can protect their bank savings, pension plans, etc.  If this profound belief in paper money did not exist, gold would be thousands of dollars higher as currency holders of insolvent countries such as Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain desperately lined up to buy gold.

As the looming financial crisis explodes, bank depositors will discover that a bankrupt nation cannot protect their savings.  It will be too late for many as bank holidays and the financial collapse of financial institutions prevent depositors from accessing their money.  Middle class savers will be financially destroyed.  If depositors eventually get paid back in printed paper money, it will be worth a fraction of its original value.

Bernanke can say that gold is not money but time will prove him wrong.

 

 

 

 

Why There Is No Upside Limit for Gold and Silver Prices

The past decade has seen a virtually nonstop advance in the price of gold.  Silver, which lagged gold until last year,  recently hit a 31 year price high.  Gold and silver, both used as currency for thousands of years, have gained broad investor appeal as a hedge against paper currencies.

The increase in the value of gold and silver is due to the fiscal and monetary policies of nations struggling to deal with massive levels of debt – policies that virtually guarantee a continued rise in the price of gold and silver.

Central banks, having exhausted all conventional means of monetary easing, have moved on to the last resort option of quantitative easing and currency debasement.  Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke has twice resorted to the printing presses, and then shamelessly explained the “virtues” of his money printing policy (in convoluted terms) to a gullible public on national television.  The subsequent absence of broad public opposition to a policy that is certain to ultimately destroy the financial well being of most Americans seems based on ignorance and/or indifference.

One American who is not ignorant or indifferent to the Fed’s policy of printing money issued a dire warning this week on the dangerous path the Federal Reserve has taken.  The reason we should all pay great attention to this warning is because it was issued by a powerful policy maker at the Federal Reserve.

According to Reuters, Richard Fisher, President of the Dallas Federal Reserve stated in a speech that the debt situation in the U.S. is at a “tipping point.” He is quoted as saying, “If we continue down on the path on which the fiscal authorities put us, we will become insolvent.  The question is when”.   Bank President Fisher further said that no additional extraordinary measures should be taken when the current round of money printing ends in June of this year.

We shall see what happens comes mid year when QE2 is scheduled to end.  The problem facing the Fed is that they are out of conventional policy bullets to ease credit conditions with rates already at zero.  The ease and apparent lack of consequences in printing money has made additional quantitative easing a very seductive method of  allowing huge deficit spending by the government.  QE2 is a thinly disguised monetization of the Federal deficit in which the Federal Reserve purchases government debt from the primary dealers after they purchase the debt at Treasury auctions.

Government officials argue that unprecedented deficit spending and quantitative easing are necessary to stimulate economic  growth, but this theory has not worked in the real world.  Despite trillions in stimulus spending,  job creation and economic growth have been extremely weak and are likely to remain so according to economists Kenneth Rogoff and Carmen Reinhart who wrote This Time Is Different: Eight Centuries of Financial Folly.  According to Rogoff and Reinhart, economic growth is subpar when public sector debt exceeds 90% of GPD which the U.S. and many other developed nations have already surpassed.  In addition, a recovery of the job and housing markets after a financial crisis take many years due to the burden of excessive levels of debt.  Ultimately, Rogoff and Reinhart predict that austerity measures will need to be imposed along with some type of debt restructuring.

Is the U.S. capable of reducing spending and  instituting austerity measures? Cutting deficits means cutting payments to a long list of incomeless recipients who really don’t care where the entitlement money comes from.  Those still actually paying taxes will object strongly to any proposed tax increase to fund government spending.  Unable to cut spending or raise taxes leaves the Government with one bad option – print more money.

Politicians, who value getting elected above all else, are likely to strong arm the reliably compliant Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke to “come to the rescue” again with QE3.   In the minds of politicians and Federal Reserve officials, there will always be very compelling reasons to continue borrowing and money printing.  With the expected retirement of Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas President Thomas Hoenig this October, the Federal Reserve will be dominated by dovish members who favor the easy money policies of Fed Chairman Bernanke.  President Hoenig is one of the few Fed members who oppose continued zero interest rates and quantitative easing.

The correlation between parabolic increases in government debt and the price of gold is clear.   Since 2000 both government borrowing and the price of gold have been closely correlated as seen below.  The increased value of gold directly reflects the decreasing value of paper money.

A nation that has reached the limits on taxation and borrowing has few viable policy options other than a continuing series of quantitative easing programs.  Current government policies, if left unchanged, virtually guarantee a continued increase in the price of precious metals.

TOTAL PUBLIC DEBT

GOLD PRICE - COURTESY KITCO.COM