Archive for the ‘Jobs’ Category

Rolling Stone
Matt Taibbi
October 8, 2010

It’s amazing, given the attention the Tea Party allegedly is paying to government waste and government spending, that there hasn’t been more controversy about the now-seemingly-inevitable arrival of “QE2” – a second massive round of money-printing cooked up by the Fed to prop up both the government and certain sectors of the economy. A more overtly anticapitalist and oligarchical pattern of behavior than the Fed’s “Quantitative Easing” program could not possibly be imagined, but the country is strangely silent on the issue.

What is “QE”? The first round of “quantitative easing” was a program announced by Ben Bernanke last March in response to the financial crisis, ending in March of this year. In what will soon be known as “QE1”(i.e. once QE2 is announced), Bernanke printed over a trillion dollars out of thin air, then used that money to buy, among other things, mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and Treasury Bonds. In other words, the government was printing money to a) lend to itself and b) prop up the housing market, with Wall Street stepping in to take a big cut.

That was QE1. There has long been speculation that another trillion-plus money-printing program called QE2 is coming, but only recently have there been concrete hints from the Fed along those lines. Among other things, New York Fed Vice President Brian Sack just this week squeaked out a comment about how, “In terms of the benefits, balance-sheet expansion appears to push financial conditions in the right direction.” Translating into English, “balance-sheet expansion” means the Fed adding to its balance sheet, i.e. printing money to buy stuff – i.e. QE2.

Thanks to that and other hints, most everyone now expects the Fed to announce a new QE program in November. The big banks have now openly begun to predict this, with JP Morgan Chase among others raising its odds of the Fed buying mortgages in the next 6 months from 10% to 50%. Another effect we’re seeing is that mortgage originators are hiring again, in anticipation of being able to fork out QE-funded mortgages.

QE is difficult to understand and the average person could listen to a Fed official talk about it for two hours right to his face and not understand even the basic gist of his speech. The ostensible justification for QE is to use a kind of financial shock-and-awe approach to jump-starting the economy, but its effects for ordinary people are hard to calculate. Theoretically the entire country has some sort of stake in this program, as (among other things) U the Homeowner may see your home value stay stable or fall less than it would have thanks to this artificial stimulus. You also may be able to buy a house when you wouldn’t before, thanks to declining mortgage rates.

And jobs, I suppose, may theoretically be created by all this dollar meth being injected into the financial bloodstream – although the inflationary effect of printing trillions upon trillions of new dollars would probably wipe out the value of the money you make at that job. When it comes to calculating what QE actually does for you, or how much it harms you, that question is just very hard to answer.

But one thing we know for sure is that big banks and Wall Street speculators are real, immediate beneficiaries of the program, as they suddenly have trillions of printed dollars flowing through the financial system, with endless ways to profit on the new chips entering the casino.

And by an amazing coincidence, many of the biggest players in the financial services industry have a habit of buying up MBS or Treasuries just before these magical money-printing programs of the Fed send their respective values soaring. If you own a big fund, for instance, and you know that the Fed is about to buy a trillion dollars of mortgage-backed-securities through a new Quantitative Easing program, buying a buttload of MBS a few weeks early is a pretty easy way to make a risk-free fortune. One of the worst-kept secrets on Wall Street is that the big bankers and fund managers get signals about the Fed’s intentions about things like QE well before they are announced to the rest of us losers in the public.

A hilarious example of this cozy insiderism popped up just a few weeks ago, when PIMCO bond fund chief Bill Gross let it slip on a live CNBC interview that he was getting inside info from the Fed. The interview is with former Goldman analyst and (now) CNBC anchor Erin Burnett, as well as my slimeball former colleague from the Moscow Times and (now) CNBC bobblehead Steve Liesman, who slobber typically over the bond king in the segment.

Gross at one point says this:

“What is important going into November is the staff forecast for economic growth for the next 12-18 months. Our understanding is that the Fed is about to downgrade their forecast from 3% down to 2%. Which in turn would suggest that unemployment won’t be coming down… and so that would be the trigger to my way of thinking for Quantitative Easing in November.”

The admission is so untoward that the ex-Goldmanite Burnett immediately races to clean up the problem, saying to Liesman, who is also on the panel, “We don’t have that forecast yet, right, Steve?”

At which point the ever-helpful Liesman replies, “We won’t get that for 3 weeks, Erin. That’s when it comes out with the minutes of this meeting .”

Check out 5:20 of this video (courtesy of Zero Hedge):

There are so many different ways for Wall Street guys to make risk-gazillions off of QE, it’s not even funny. When I was researching the “Wall Street Bailout Hustle” story last year, for instance, I learned about one fund that loaded up on MBS before the first QE announcement, then saw their MBS skyrocket in value after QE – at which point the fund sold off a lot of its MBS holdings and bought Treasuries, effectively taking money from the Fed and lending it right back to the government at interest.

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telegraph.co.uk
Ambrose Evans-Pritchard
July 15, 2010

great depression
The US workforce has shrunk by a 1m over the past two
months as discouraged jobless give up the hunt    Photo: AP

The euro rocketed to a two-month high of $1.29 and sterling jumped two cents to almost $1.54 after the Fed confessed that the US economy may not recover for five or six years. Far from winding down emergency stimulus, the bank may need a fresh blast of bond purchases or quantitative easing.

Usually the dollar serves as a safe haven whenever the world takes fright, and there was plenty of sobering news from China and other quarters on Thursday. Not this time. The US itself has become the problem.

“The worm is turning,” said David Bloom, currency chief at HSBC. “We’re in a world of rotating sovereign crises. The market seems to become obsessed with one idea at a time, then violently swings towards another. People thought the euro would break-up. Now we’re moving into a new phase because we’re hearing alarm bells of a US double dip.”

Mr Bloom said a deep change is under way in investor psychology as funds and central banks respond to the blizzard of shocking US data and again focus on the fragility of an economy where public debt is surging towards 100pc of GDP, not helped by the malaise enveloping the Obama White House. “The Europeans have aired their dirty debt in public and taken some measures to address it, whilst the US has not,” he said.

The Fed minutes warned of “significant downside risks” and a possible slide into deflation, an admission that zero interest rates, $1.75 trillion of QE, and a fiscal deficit above 10pc of GDP have so far failed to lift the economy out of a structural slump.

“The Committee would need to consider whether further policy stimulus might become appropriate if the outlook were to worsen appreciably,” it said. The economy might not regain its “longer-run path” until 2016.

“The Fed is throwing in the towel,” said Gabriel Stein, of Lombard Street Research. “They are preparing to start QE again. This was predictable because the M3 broad money supply has been contracting for months.”

The Fed minutes amount to a policy thunderbolt, evidence of how quickly the recovery has lost steam. Just weeks ago the Fed was mapping out withdrawal of stimulus.

Goldman Sachs said it expects the euro to rise to $1.35 by the end of the year. The yen will appreciate to ¥83, through the pain barrier for most of Japan’s big exporters. The new twist is that SAFE, China’s $2.4 trillion fund, has begun buying record amounts of Japanese bonds, a shift in reserve allocation away from the dollar.

The signs of a deep and sudden slowdown in the US are becoming ever clearer as the “sugar rush” from the Obama fiscal stimulus wears off and the inventory boost fades. California, Illinois and other states are cutting spending, tightening US fiscal policy by 0.8pc of GDP.

Thursday’s plunge in the Philadelphia Fed’s July index of new manufacturing orders to –4.3 suggests that the economy may have buckled abruptly, as it did in mid-2008. The Economic Cycle Research Institute’s ECRI leading indicator has tumbled, reaching –8.3pc last week. This points to a sharp slowdown or recession within three months.

While US port data looked buoyant in June, the details were troubling. Outbound traffic from Long Beach fell from 139,000 containers in May to 116,000 in June. Shipments from Los Angeles fell from 161,000 to 155,000. This drop in exports is worsening the US trade deficit, eroding the dollar.

The US workforce has shrunk by a 1m over the past two months as discouraged jobless give up the hunt. Retail sales have fallen for the past two months. New homes sales crashed to 300,000 in May after tax credits ran out, the lowest since records began in 1963. Mortgage applications have fallen by 42pc to 13-year low since April. Paul Dales at Capital Economics said the “shadow inventory” of unsold properties has risen to 7.8m. “The double dip in housing has begun,” he said.

Alcoa, CSX, Intel, and JP Morgan have reported good earnings, but they mostly did so in July 2008 just before their shares collapsed. Such earnings rarely catch turning points and can be a lagging indicator. Profits have been boosted in this cycle by cost-cutting, which is self-defeating for the economy as a whole.

The minutes confirm the Fed is split down the middle over QE. Fed watchers say the Board in Washington wants to be ready to launch another round of bond purchases if necessary, pushing the banks balance sheet from $2.4 trillion towards $5 trillion, but hawks at the regional banks are highly sceptical.

A study by the San Francisco Fed said the interest rates need to be –4.5pc to stabilise the economy under the Fed’s “rule of thumb”. Since this is impossible, massive QE needs to make up the difference.

Tim Congdon from International Monetary Research said the US authorities have botched policy response. “They are forcing banks to contract lending by raising their capital asset ratios. They have let M3 shrink by 1pc a month, as in the early 1930s. The solution is simple. The Fed must raise the level of deposits by purchasing bonds from the non-banking system as the Bank of England has done. They refuse to do it,” he said.