In a new Bernanke hair-brained scheme, the Federal Reserve Bank said last week that it is going to quantitatively “ease” by buying mortgage-backed securities from the private economy, to the tune of $40 billion worth per month. Nearly half a trillion dollars each year. And it’s open-ended, meaning the Fed has no plan—no idea, really—of when it might stop.
Bernanke says this is necessary.
If the outlook for the labor market does not improve substantially, the committee will continue its purchase of agency mortgage-backed securities, undertake additional asset purchases, and employ its other policy tools as appropriate until such improvement is achieved in a context of price stability.
Bernanke then said, in all seriousness,
[This move will] assure the public that the Fed will remain accommodative long enough to ensure recovery.
We don’t have a single number that captures that, but we anticipate that we’ll have to do more and we’ll do enough to make sure the economy gets on the right track[.]
In other words, he doesn’t have a clue what his decision criterion should be, but he’s going to decide, anyway. And more so, as time goes on and his nonexistent milestone isn’t met.
These actions, which together will increase the Committee’s holdings of longer-term securities by about $85 billion each month [including its existing long-bond buying "plan"] through the end of the year, should put downward pressure on longer-term interest rates, support mortgage markets, and help to make broader financial conditions more accommodative[.]
There are a number of questions, though.
Why are we taxpayers being put on the hook for these private economy instruments? If these securities are failing in our economy, why should the public have to pick up the tab? If they aren’t failing, whence the need to take them off the banks’ hands? What ever happened to free markets, responsibility, and accepting consequences, as well as reaping rewards?
And these questions:
The Fed has been artificially suppressing interest rates for the last three-plus years. That suppression already has lowered my own mortgage rate from 6+% to nearly 3.5%. What does Bernanke expect to gain from suppressing mortgage rates directly? The inflation rate this year is 1.7% month on month, and 2% year on year through August. The August interest rate on a one-year Treasury Note is 0.16%: he’s already suppressed interest rates to the point that we’re paying the government for the pleasure of lending it our money. What does Bernanke expect to gain?
These artificially suppressed rates have a number of negative effects. By distorting the market for debt instruments, the Fed is making it difficult, if not impossible, for investors accurately to assess value of the debt of borrowers—and so is making it unnecessarily difficult, and risky, to lend. How does the Fed plan on redressing this failure?
By artificially suppressing interest rates, the Fed is actively and extensively damaging those who’re committed to, or dependent on, fixed income instruments, like bonds, for their income. Folks like retirees. How does the Fed plan on redressing this failure?
Savings accounts have become utterly useless—the interest rates here have been good approximations of zero for the last four years. Savings accounts used to be an effective means through which financial institutions could accumulate funds for lending to borrowers—like home-buyers and businesses looking to expand their operations. How does the Fed plan on redressing this failure?
Our economy will recover, eventually. And interest rates will rise. Catastrophically, if all the money the Fed is pumping into our economy with…ideas…like this one drives inflation skyward.
On top of this, though, the Fed is creating another time bomb, one which it has no hope of controlling. When interest rates rise, and the cost of borrowing goes up, for lending institutions as well as for borrowers, as the former search for funds to loan to the latter, those lenders still will be sitting on all those mortgage loans let at artificially low rates. Those low rates in a healthy economy (let’s skip over the high inflation, high interest rate economy) will be far below then-market rates, and so those existing mortgages, mortgages with which the lender still will be stuck, will not be generating enough income for the lenders to continue to loan. For up to 30 years in the mortgage market. Can you say, “S&L bankruptcy?”
And, by the way, as Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond President Jeffrey Lacker said Saturday,
Channeling the flow of credit to particular economic sectors is an inappropriate role for the Federal Reserve[.]
Or for any part of the government.