The Fed Keeps the Spigot Open

08/25/2010 10:42 am EST

Focus: MARKETS

Axel Merk

President and Chief Investment Officer, Merk Investments, LLC

Axel Merk, president and chief investment officer of Merk Investments, says the Fed’s move to reinvest maturing securities is a continuation of its easy-money policy.

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has decided to reinvest the proceeds from maturing securities acquired through its $1.25-trillion mortgage-backed security (MBS) purchase program. The proceeds won't be invested in short-term, but in long-term Treasuries.

Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has long argued that the MBS program constituted credit easing, not quantitative easing. Credit easing, the argument goes, ought to support functioning and liquidity in the housing market. In various speeches, Bernanke has called the chapter on credit easing closed, a sign that the Fed is engaged in an "exit strategy."

We have repeatedly cautioned that merely not buying additional securities is no exit at all, but rather a pause. To be consistent with its public communication, quantitative easing would follow credit easing. Quantitative easing is the purchase of government debt with long maturities.

[So,] the cat is out of the bag now: Credit easing is out, there is no exit, [and] quantitative easing is the name of the game. For now, the size of the Fed's balance sheet is to remain constant—that is, the maturing securities won't be running off, but will be reinvested. This is in stark contrast with the European Central Bank (ECB), [which] drained €244 billion ($322 billion) from the markets in the eurozone.

(It may be worth mentioning that historically, central banks rarely succeed in substantially reducing the size of their balance sheets after periods of expansion. Even when a central bank wins a fight against inflation, we never return to old price levels; Policy makers tend to be satisfied in preventing further abnormal increases at an elevated level.)

The dollar plunged from its intraday highs as a result of the announcement. In our opinion, the only thing keeping the dollar from falling further is the confidence that the Fed will do whatever it takes to ensure the negative effects of quantitative easing, inflation, will not be a problem.

To that argument, we would like to point out: a. this sounds a lot like a "frog in a boiling pot" theory as the Fed is further boxing itself into a corner, and b. note that Bernanke may see a weaker dollar as a positive rather than a negative side effect of his policies. In our assessment, Bernanke, unlike his predecessors, considers the US dollar as one of the policy tools at his disposal.

Read more commentary from Axel Merk at the Merk Mutual Funds Web site here…

Related Articles on MARKETS