Steve Pearlstein of the Washington Post has a common-sense column warning about the dangers of the Fed’s easy-money policy. It is possible, to be sure, that the Fed will withdraw (or “soak up”) all this liquidity as the economy recovers, but all the signs suggest that the central bank is kowtowing to the politicians and debasing the currency in order to help politicians create illusory growth. This is a recipe for a return to the 1970s. The bad policy started under Bush (and Greenspan) and is continuing under Obama (and Bernanke):
The Federal Reserve is still going through its “lessons-learned” exercise from the recent financial crisis, but there’s one lesson it clearly has not yet absorbed — the one about ignoring and enabling credit bubbles. That’s the only conclusion that can be drawn from the Fed’s decision last week to not only keep its benchmark interest rates at zero but also let everyone know that it intends to leave them there for a good long time. …Not surprisingly, all of this sparked a week-long party in financial markets that had already experienced powerful rallies over the past six months. Even with Thursday’s modest pullback on Wall Street, U.S. stocks are up 60 percent since March, and share prices in emerging markets have nearly doubled. Commodity prices are soaring once again, led by gold, which is now selling for more than $1,100 an ounce, and crude oil, which is up a whopping 126 percent since February. A rally in the junk-bond and third-world debt markets has driven interest rates back to where they were before the crisis. In urban China, India and Brazil, property prices have doubled in the past year. “The markets are on a sugar high,” Mohamed El-Erian, chief executive of Pimco, the giant money manager, told Newsweek’s Rana Foroohar last week. Judging from how sharply and quickly these prices have risen, it’s a pretty good guess that most of the buying has not been done by long-term investors who are suddenly upbeat about the prospects of global economic growth. The better bet is all this is the handiwork of short-term speculation by banks, hedge funds, private-equity funds and other financial center wise-guys moving as a herd, financing their purchases directly or indirectly with some of that yummy zero-percent money provided courtesy of the Fed. …There’s no way to know how long all this can continue before one of these bubbles finally bursts, the dollar spikes upward and investors all rush to unwind their trades at the same time. But it is a good guess that it will last as long as the Fed and other central banks indicate there is no end in sight for the current cheap-money regime. The longer they wait, the bigger the bubbles, and the bigger the mess to clean up. All of which is why the recent statements by policymakers were so disappointing — and so dangerous.