Opinion

James Saft

Bonds, risk and Bernanke’s intentions

Feb 10, 2011 20:49 UTC

Will bond investors keep faith with U.S. government debt amid signs of growing global inflation?

In the end, as with all banks, even central banks, it boils down to trust.

Asked on Wednesday at an appearance before the U.S. House of Representatives Budget Committee if the Fed’s $600 billion programme of quantitative easing amounted to monetization — that Peter to Paul transfer when a government prints money to pay for a shortfall — Ben Bernanke said an interesting thing:

“Monetization involves a permanent increase in money supply though money creation. (QE) is a temporary measure that will be reversed. Money will be normalized and there will be no permanent increase in outstanding balance sheet or inflation.”

So, because he intends to undo it later, he’s not doing it now.

This is both demonstrably false and deeply, at least for now, true.

False because, of course, money is being created to fund the purchase of debt issued by the Treasury. True because Bernanke can avoid the disaster often associated with monetization so long as he retains the faith of the world’s investors that he not only intends to unwind QE but will be able to do so at the right time in the future.

Monetization is an inflammatory term because so often in the past the practice of funding a revenue shortfall by buying debt with newly printed money has worked out poorly, resulting in an inflationary spiral that beggars creditors and kills the real economy.

Fed hits its 3rd mandate: rising shares

Jan 18, 2011 15:29 UTC

James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.

Apparently not satisfied with being unable to fulfill its dual target of price stability and maximum employment the Federal Reserve has set itself a third mandate: higher asset prices.

Speaking on CNBC at a Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation-sponsored forum on small business lending last week, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was asked how, in essence, his $600 billion quantitative easing programme could be called a success when interest rates and commodity prices had actually risen in response.

“We see the economy strengthening, its gotten better over the last three or four months, a 3-4 percent growth number for 2011 seems reasonable,” he said.

Waiting for Europe’s QE to sail

Dec 2, 2010 15:17 UTC

The good news is that the European Central Bank will probably start a massive additional round of quantitative easing to fight the break-up of the euro zone.

The bad news is that they will, as ever, only choose the right policy, as Winston Churchill said of the Americans, after exhausting all of the alternatives.

Global share markets rallied furiously on Wednesday, fed by hopes that the ECB would increase its bond-buying efforts, a possibility raised by its chief Jean-Claude Trichet in an appearance before the European Parliament. Trichet faces stern opposition inside the ECB from fellow central bankers, notably German Axel Weber, who believe that policy should be normalized rather than loosened.

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