Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Bernanke Testimony Indicates Fed Still in Denial

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. We have coined this term to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government, which involve unprecedented money printing. This is the official blog of the New York Investing meetup.

Fed Chair Ben Bernanke testified on Capitol Hill today and didn't disappoint. As usual, his lack of insight into the true state of the U.S. economy boggles the mind.

The key takeaway from Bernanke's remarks is that the U.S. economy is strong enough to withstand the fiscal tightening ahead. Bernanke then promptly undermined this claim by admitting that the housing market has "firmed only a little" since mid-2009 and that it will take a long time before 8.5 million jobs lost during the Credit Crisis will be restored. What Bernanke left out was that even though the federal government has spent trillions on bailouts and efforts to directly and indirectly prop up the U.S. housing market, it has managed to get only slightly better. As for the jobs lost, what will that number be after the 1.2 million temporary Census workers are let go in the next few months? A 10 million lost job figure is probably more realistic.

It is of course not surprising the U.S. economy has gotten better after the government has pumped trillions of dollars in extra spending into it and given banks credit at zero percent interest. What is surprising is how little improvement there has been given these extraordinary and unsustainable measures. There is little evidence of private sector hiring in the job market and moreover the weekly unemployment claims are stuck over the 400,000 number that indicates layoffs are taking place at a recessionary level. The U.S. economy is also dependent on consumer spending. This accounted for 72% of GDP before the Credit Crisis. Consumers not only have job problems, but they are also losing access to credit. While credit card debt is dropping rapidly, there was a minuscule increase of $1.0 billion increase in overall consumer credit in April. Loans held by the federal government increased by $1.7 billion.

Nevertheless, Bernanke is confident that "gains in final demand will sustain the recovery in economic activity" even though "support to economic growth from fiscal policy is likely to diminish in the coming year". Bernanke went on to state the federal budget deficit is was estimated to decrease by $500 billion in fiscal year 2011. It was not clear where in the private sector the 'final demand' would be coming from to make up the reduced spending from the federal government. It certainly doesn't look like it will be coming from the over leveraged American consumer. As for the reduction in the budget deficit, prior to the last year of the Bush administration, the record budget deficit in total was less than $500 billion. A reduction by that amount now indicates the federal government will be spending $1.1 trillion more than it is taking in during 2011. That is still an enormous amount of deficit spending and hardly indicates an economy that can function on its own without constant ongoing government stimulus.

What led to the tragedy of the Great Depression in the 1930s were major missteps from the Federal Reserve and the federal government. The Fed put the interests of the banking community over those of the American public and this is what turned a bad recession into a bad depression. This was combined with an ongoing campaign of denial of the problem on Washington's part. Herbert Hoover gave a press conference in June 1930 announcing the Depression was over (it was only just beginning). The similarities to all the talk coming out of Washington today about economic recovery should give investors pause.

Disclosure: None

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.

No comments: