Sunday, February 17, 2008

Monetizing Debts & Buying Assets to Prevent a Depression

I was pretty shocked to see this article get released from Reuters. It suggests that the Fed may end up having to resort to buying up assets, stocks etc to prevent a Depression. I would have to concur, as the banking/financial crisis seems to be getting worse. I expect however, we will probably see a FFR below 1% before this actually kicks into high gear.

Depression risk might force U.S. to buy assets:

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Fear that a hobbled banking sector may set off another Great Depression could force the U.S. government and Federal Reserve to take the unprecedented step of buying a broad range of assets, including stocks, according to one of the most bearish market analysts.

That extreme scenario, which would aim to stave off deflation and stabilize the economy, is evolving as the base case for Bernard Connolly, global strategist at Banque AIG in London.

In the late 1980s and early 1990's Connolly worked for the European Commission analyzing the European monetary system in the run up to the introduction of the euro currency.

"Avoiding a depression is, unfortunately, going to have to involve either a large, quasi-permanent increase in the budget deficit -- preferably tax cuts -- or restoring overvaluation of equity prices," Connolly said on Monday.

"If conventional monetary policy is not enough to produce that result, the government may have to buy equities, financed by the Fed," Connolly said.

Legal changes would be needed to give the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government the authority to buy stocks. Currently the Federal Reserve can buy only debt issued by the Treasury, as well as U.S. agency debentures and mortgage-backed securities.

While Connolly already sees some parallels with the 1930s, he expects that a more pro-active central bank and government will probably help avert a repeat of that scenario today.

The build up of a credit bubble in recent years was similar to the late 1920s run-up to the Great Depression, he said.

Then, investors were very optimistic about new technologies, and stocks rose against a backdrop of low inflation, and a trend toward globalization. There was even an equivalent of the modern day subprime mortgage debt meltdown in the form of U.S. loans to Latin American countries which had to be written off.

"The big difference is the attitude of central banks and specifically the attitude of the Fed," Connolly said.

Some economists have blamed the U.S. economy's travails in the 1930s on the Federal Reserve's hesitation to inject reserves into the banking system.

However, today's Fed has tried to preempt the danger of a protracted economic slump and has responded swiftly to a credit crunch in the past year and gathering signs of deterioration in the economy, Connolly said.

The Fed has stepped up its temporary additions of reserves to the banking system, and swiftly slashed its benchmark fed funds target rate to 3.0 percent from 5.25 percent in September. Analysts expect at least another 0.5 percentage point cut in next month.

At the same time, "the fed funds rate can't stay significantly above the 2-year note yield," Connolly said.

On Tuesday, the 2-year Treasury note yield was at 2.00 percent, not far above the lowest level since 2004.

The Fed "almost certainly" has to cut the funds rate to 2.0 percent by the end of this monetary easing cycle, he said. If conditions in the banking sector worsen, the Fed could cut the funds rate to 1.0 percent, a low last seen in June 2004.

Global banks have already written down more than $100 billion of bad debts associated with the U.S. subprime mortgage debt meltdown and housing.

However, Fed rate cuts alone are unlikely to avert a prolonged period of economic weakness because the danger still exists that a burdened banking sector will choke off credit to consumers and households.

"The Fed probably can't fix it all on its own now," Connolly said. "There is a chance the Fed gets forced into unconventional cooperation with government," which could involve buying a range of assets to reflate their value.

That would be reminiscent of some steps the U.S. government took in the 1930s when the economy was mired in deflation and high unemployment.

One turning point came when agricultural prices were restored to their pre-slump levels, Connolly said. Such measures were among the New Deal programs that President Franklin D. Roosevelt launched to bolster the economy.

Either way, investors face bleak prospects now without some kind of further government intervention, he said.

Those steps might offer clues to investors in stocks and commodities, which Connolly expects the government might be ultimately force to step in and buy to stabilize markets. He expects that a depression may be averted, but only by the state and the Fed reinflating the price of such assets.

Beleaguered housing, non-government fixed-income securities and even the now overvalued Treasury market have little hope of generating substantial returns for investors over the next few years, he said.

"If we don't avoid depression, the only thing worth holding is cash," he added.

Additionally, Christopher Laird (from the Prudent Squirrel) is saying much of the same in his new article: The Other Option, Crossing The Rubicon .

With US target rates cut from 5.25% vs 3% now, both consumer and corporate credit have not eased. It is said the US Fed needs to cut to the 2 year bond rate to have any chance of loosening US credit markets - which would be around 2%. The Fed is still behind the curve.

In fact, looking at credit markets now, it looks as if the Fed is not only behind the curve, but has let the train get completely away from them. If they have any hope of catching it, they need a target rate of 2% now. But inflation is still a concern, and that is not going to happen in time.

The other option, Crossing the Rubicon

A while ago I wrote a piece that, if markets got bad enough, central banks could be faced with having to monetize all the bad assets accumulating on financial institutions books. That would be the only way to get banks lending again, and to put a floor on markets.

If CBs saw that interest cuts failed to restart US consumer spending, they would then be faced with the option of actually buying everything in sight to support financial markets. This is monetization of markets. (Monetization is where central banks merely buy everything in sight where the losses are and hold it on their own balance sheets. Presently, central banks are doing what are called REPOs, repurchase agreements, which are short term CB purchases of assets that are supposed to be bought back and the money repaid by the seller. This is short term central bank purchasing of assets, but is not actual monetization, as the assets are only held for a month or so. Monetization would be just wholesale purchases and holding of troubled assets, and no Repo agreement.)

Gold here

With Central banks lowering interest rates, and more to come, gold is rising in all major currencies. This will continue in 08, sans some major world stock crash. But, if central banks actually do the other option, monetization of troubled assets and markets, and cross the Rubicon, then gold will go right out of sight. Even a hint of any serious monetization would drive gold rapidly to $2000.

If we merely have interest rate cuts, gold will get easily over $1000 in 08, probably in a month or two. If there is any significant monetization by Central Banks (perhaps just buying outright all the troubled assets on banks books, right now about $2trilllion worth and counting) gold goes to over $2000 in a few months time.

Monetization is the central bank's Rubicon. They are thinking of crossing it. We are at a decisive point in gold's price action in 08.

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2 Comments:

At 2/17/2008 10:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Idiotic post. Imagine the govt buying stock market securities. It is not their charter to save banks. The banks must be allowed to fail, with the accompanying suffering, to insure that people throw off the yoke of the Fed and never again allow a central bank to 'manage' the money supply. In the end its only the Fed makes us all slaves.

 
At 2/17/2008 10:18 AM, Blogger Randy said...

Anon 10:00,

I take your comment "Imagine the govt buying stock market securities." as a bit of sarcasm.
If that was not the case, please let me know and I'll point you to some interesting reading material. Otherwise, I agree 100%with the remainder of your comment. Thanks for posting up.

 

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