Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Fed Should be Careful What It Wishes For

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. In addition to the term helicopter economics, we have also coined the term, helicopternomics, to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government and to update the old-fashioned term wheelbarrow economics.

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Volatility is still the predominant feature of the U.S. stock market, with multi-hundred point moves being a daily occurrence on the Dow. For the moment, a Monday rally pattern seems to have replaced the Monday crash pattern that began in mid-September. The media reported yesterday's big move up in stocks as the market's approval of Fed chair Bernanke's endorsement of a new economic stimulus package. This of course makes no sense. The number of stimulus packages, special Fed lending facilities, special Fed asset purchasing programs, bailouts, bailout bills and government loans since the credit crisis began is now somewhere in the double digits - there have been so many, I've lost count. The need for more is just an admission of failure for all of the other initiatives, many of which were claimed to be just what was needed to turn things around. Apparently, the turning hasn't taken place yet.

The Fed announced even another new program this morning (for $540 billion this time). It will start buying commercial paper and dollar denominated CDs directly from money market funds. If you have been following this blog, you may have thought this was already being done. However, what was taking place is the Fed has been lending banks, a $123 billion so far, the money for this type of purchase. However, $341 billion has been withdrawn from money market funds by institutional investors since that program began. So the Fed has decided to eliminate the middleman (or more appropriately the middle-bank) and put an increased amount of funding behind this operation. This new program should not be confused with the one that begins on October 27th when the Fed will begin buying up to a trillion plus of commercial paper from an array of companies. The security of U.S. money market funds was supposed to have been assured about a month ago with the (legally questionable) establishment of a $50 billion dollar government insurance fund. It looks like things aren't exactly working as planned.

Today's country to announce the latest multi-billion dollar injection into its banking system is France. The French government will provide $14 billion in funding to the nations six largest banks. This appears to be part of their half a trillion bank rescue package announced several days ago. Between these two bailout announcements, French authorities were embarrassed once again with another bank trading scandal. Caisse d'Epargne announced an $800 million loss from derivative trading that allegedly took place because of rogue traders. It makes you wonder if there are there any controls on trading operations in French banks. Regardless, the biggest banks in France, just as in other advanced economies, will be assured of survival. Smaller and medium sized banks will be the ones taking the hit from the credit crisis.

The close to infinite liquidity being poured into the world's financial system is having the immediate desired effect of lowering interbank lending rates, which fell to their lowest level in a month yesterday. While the liquidity tsunami is good in the short-term, if successful it could lead to a very ugly long-term. Examination of a U.S. Adjusted Monetary Base chart shows a line going straight up (http://research.stlouisfed.org/fred2/series/BASE). This figure is currency in circulation, plus bank reserves and a massive increase in bank reserves is what is causing its vertical rise. Since banks are not lending at the moment, the inflationary effects will be muted from these additional reserves as long as the economy remains weak. A roaring economy where banks are lending out their reserves full stop would translate to an annual U.S. inflation rate somewhere around 2000% if the current rate of increase was maintained - and that would certainly make the stock market go up.

NEXT: Stock Market Enters the Bermuda Triangle

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer, New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.

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