federal reserve interest rates
As usual, the markets were hanging on every word of the Bernanke testimony to Congress today (Wednesday).
By now, everyone should know better.
In the years that U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has been a member of the Fed - both as a member of the Board of Governors from 2002 to 2005, and in his two terms as chairman beginning in 2006 - he has been stupendously wrong time and time again.
Bernanke gave the markets what they wanted by hinting that his monetary easing policies won't change any time soon, pushing both the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Standard & Poor's 500 Index up more than 0.5% in midday trading.
5 Things the Federal Reserve Hopes You'll Never Find Out
Most Americans assume the U.S. Federal Reserve is a powerful government institution that seeks only to safeguard the dollar, boost the economy and drive employment higher.
That's what the Fed wants you to think.
The illusion of the Fed as a stabilizing, positive government entity has more or less existed since its creation under dubious circumstances in 1913.
"It not only avoided the word bank, it cleverly implied federal, or government, control over the establishment of a pool of reserves that would backstop the new banking 'system,'" said Money Morning Capital Wave Strategist Shah Gilani.
Why Crime Pays for "Too-Big-To-Fail" Banks
There's a reason why the first few installments of my What Everyone Absolutely Needs to Know About Money series have been about banks.
You need to know the truth about banks.
Why? Because they rob you.
Why? Because they can.
It's the Willie Sutton bank robber quote in reverse. Willie was asked, "Why do you rob banks?"
He famously answered, while in handcuffs, "Because that's where the money is."
But, banks can't keep robbing the public if they keep shooting themselves in their feet. That's where central banks come in.
Why We Can't Avoid Ben Bernanke's "Monetary Cliff"
When it comes to the Federal Reserve, an accurate "reading of the tea leaves" means paying attention to all of the fine print.
And while the markets cheered last week's FOMC meeting with yet another rally, a deeper look at Ben Bernanke's press conference left me with a slightly different take.
Sifting through the Fedspeak, it became obvious that the Fed is now lining up a "monetary cliff" that's bigger than the fiscal one we spent the last half of 2012 worrying about.
Let me explain...
Here's Where the Fine Print Gets InterestingAccording to the release from last week's meeting, the Fed will continue to purchase $85 billion of Treasury and agency bonds every month. Doing so, Bernanke explained that at some point he does expect to reduce that amount. However, he also explained that the recent string of good unemployment data (five months above 200,000 new jobs) wasn't enough yet for him to make the change.
The Fed also stated that it expects a "considerable period" to elapse between the conclusion of the purchase program and raising rates.
Interestingly, that matched with the intentions of the 19 Federal Open Market Committee members. Only a few expect to raise rates before the end of 2014, compatible with the current Fed outlook.
But here's where the fine print gets really interesting: All but one of the members now expects to raise rates in 2015.
What's more, they said once they start, they won't be shy. In fact, the average opinion would put rates at 1.35% by the end of 2015. It may not seem like much at first glance but that's actually quite a big move from six-plus years at zero. And further on into the future, the consensus long-term goal was for rates to hit 4%.
Of course, with inflation around 2%, my goal for the Fed funds rate would be higher than 4% and a lot higher than 1.35% by the end of 2015. But alas, I'm not the Fed chief.
The point is that with the Fed expecting the economy to grow steadily between now and then, and no immediate sign of even a slackening in bond purchases, the turn by the Fed supertanker in late 2014 and 2015 is going to be pretty abrupt.
In fact, chances are it will cause a big wake, and drown quite a few people who have become used to current policies.
Do We Really Need the Federal Reserve?
Last week I spent two days speaking to senior government officials and business leaders in Bermuda, which is one of the world's leading international insurance and reinsurance hubs. The men and women in the room are responsible for hundreds of millions in assets worldwide.
I spoke for over an hour on the implications and opportunities of the financial crisis (I'll have specifics for Money Morning readers next week).
As I was finishing up, I received one of the most provocative questions I've gotten in a long time from the darkness beyond the stage lights: "Does any nation really need a 'Fed'?"
The answer is, unequivocally, "no." Especially if it's modeled after the United States Federal Reserve.
The individual depositors who were the protected class when the Fed was originally formed are little more than cannon fodder today. Instead, the banks the Fed supports have become the protected few.
To be honest, I didn't always think this way. For much of my career, I took the Fed for granted, believing like millions of Americans that it was acting in our country's best interest.
Then I sat down with legendary investor Jim Rogers in Singapore a few years back at the onset of the current financial crisis. During our discussion, he pointed out several things that really made me think about the Fed and its role in not only creating this crisis, but making it worse.\
The Fed Delivers Unmistakable Message After Two-Day Meeting
The Fed delivered a clear message Wednesday after its two-day meeting: Don't expect the easy monetary policies to end anytime soon.
The Central Bank's official policy statement, the first of 2013, said interest rates would remain near zero, at ¼%, and the aggressive $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program would continue for a "considerable time."
Word of the Fed's decision came just hours after a Commerce Department report showed gross domestic product had declined for the first time since the Great Recession, slipping 0.1% in the fourth quarter.
The GDP's first decline in 3 1/2 years had led economists to predict the Fed would stick to its easy money policies for the time being.
"There is no hint that they are giving any thought of backing off current policy and their current stance," Wells Fargo's senior economist Mark Vitner told Bloomberg.
"Growth has slowed and inflation is running below expectations. To the extent the Fed's decisions are data dependent, all the relevant data suggest they should continue to ease."
Did the Fed Just Admit QE3 Has Been a Major Failure?
After four years of quantitative easing programs, including QE3 just last fall, U.S. Federal Reserve officials have started voicing doubts about its effectiveness and concerns that it is distorting the markets.
And it's not just the Fed's hawks, such as Dallas Fed President Richard Fisher and Philadelphia Fed President Charles Plosser, speaking out against the bond-buying extravaganza.
Doves like Atlanta's Dennis Lockhart and moderates like Kansas City's Esther George have expressed concerns about QE3 as well.
"I do think the growth of the Fed's balance sheet could have longer-term consequences that are worrisome. While I've supported these policy decisions to date, I acknowledge legitimate concerns," Lockhart said in a speech in Atlanta on Monday.
According to the minutes of the December Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, several members "thought that it would probably be appropriate to slow or to stop purchases well before the end of 2013, citing concerns about financial stability or the size of the balance sheet."
If in fact sentiment within the FOMC is turning against QE3, then the easy money spigot that has helped fuel the stock market and other investments could be switched off sooner than most expected, which could have a sharp impact on the markets.
What You Probably Don't Know About The Federal Reserve and Why It's So Dangerous
The Federal Reserve System is a government-sanctioned private enterprise that functions as a socialist tool.
It was conceived in 1910 and constructed for the benefit of the private bankers who control it. Congress blessed the scheme in 1913 with passage of the Federal Reserve Act.
These days the Fed doesn't just backstop America's too-big-to-fail banks. It has expanded its doctrine of socializing banking losses globally.
The Fed helped bail out private businesses, foreign big banks and central banks in Europe and Japan in the credit crisis of 2008 and is the model for the European Central Bank, as well as the ECB's primary backstop.
To understand how the Fed gets taxpayers around the world to pay the losses its member banks routinely incur, let's pull back the curtain on the Fed and explain how it operates.
Here's What the Fed Really DoesBanks lend money and sometimes they don't get paid back. That's not a problem if it doesn't happen too often and if profits from other loans and investments cover the loan losses.
But since banks have gotten really big and have to make big loans (due to economies of scale and return on capital expectations) they need big borrowers. There are no bigger borrowers on the planet than governments, and that's where a lot of banks are lending.
Of course, governments aren't immune to over-borrowing and insolvency.
All the big banks that lent to banks in countries now in financial straits continue to lend to them because if they don't they won't get paid back what they are owed. Banks would fail from a cascade of losses and would either have to be bailed out or shut down.
That's where the Federal Reserve comes in.
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The Federal Reserve's Magic Act is Destroying America
When it comes to the Federal Reserve, it's not a matter of what you see is what you get. It's more a matter of what you don't see is what you'll end up getting.
Getting, as in up the you-know-what!
I'm talking about getting socialism shoved up our capitalist backsides, for one thing.
It's simple: We are about to go over the so-called fiscal cliff. Why? Because Congress can't figure out how to stop spending money it doesn't have.
Forget the whole revenue side of the equation. It's only part of the mix of fixes, and the only fix that matters ain't fixed.
Stop spending money you don't have and you don't have to tax people more to pay for a bunch of crap they don't need, don't want, and don't even know they're getting.
Oh, that would be because on top of what we are getting there's even more that we're not getting.
Congress' paymasters are getting pork and beans for whatever they want because that's how our Congress gets elected, by greasing the wheels of insiders to get taxpayer money for their private purses, enough to plentifully pay for campaigns.
But that's only the "private" side of spending.
The spending scheme has mushroomed by expanding (and paying sickeningly outrageous wages and benefits) an ever-growing number of government workers.
And by expanding entitlements beyond what we are entitled to. And by expanding welfare and "social programs."
Yes, I am including 99 weeks of unemployment, and accompanying food stamps, and free money for unwed mothers to have more kids so they can collect more free money, and free day care, and all the other free stuff that ain't free if someone (that's you and me) is paying for it.
All that spending creates a class of people, a voting class. And, guess what they vote for?
Duh, that would be more free stuff.
So what's this got to do with the Fed?
I'm glad you asked...
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The Bare, Naked Truth About The Federal Reserve's Socialist Agenda
The top line story, according to the FDIC's latest Quarterly Banking Review, is that the majority of U.S. banks are in better shape today than they have been in years.
The untold story is that when the Federal Reserve is done transitioning the United States from capitalism to socialism, the few dozen banks that remain in America will all be profitable until they need bailing out again, but will never die and live on in infamy.
Is that just hyperbole or some wild conspiracy theory? It's neither. Unfortunately, it's the bare, naked truth about the Fed.
It doesn't matter that you didn't know the Federal Reserve System was the brainchild of a handful of the world's most powerful bankers.
Or that all of them took a secret train from New Jersey to Jekyll Island, Georgia (owned by J.P. Morgan) in 1910 aboard Rhode Island Senator Nelson Aldrich's private car to devise and orchestrate the creation of the Federal Reserve.
Or that Aldrich was an investment associate of J.P. Morgan, that his son-in-law was John D. Rockefeller, Jr., or that he was the political spokesman for big business and banking interests in Congress.
It doesn't matter if you don't know who the powerful bankers are today that run the Fed's twelve district banks. Or that the Fed's New York Bank conducts all its open market operations with a bunch of favored big banks it protects (Case in point, MF Global).
Or that one former Chairman of the New York Bank's Board, who was also and still is a Goldman Sachs board member, resigned from the Fed when it was discovered he bought $3 million worth of Goldman's stock right before the Fed made sure Goldman wouldn't have to go out of business at the height of the financial crisis.
What matters, is that without the Federal Reserve the banking system in the United States would be more honest, more competitive and less of a risk to the economy than it is now.
And what really matters, is understanding the Federal Reserve could never exist and do what it does in an open democracy, and that its agenda of socializing risks (making taxpayers eat bankers' losses) and privatizing their profits (letting them keep their bonuses) for the benefit of its club members (the banks) means the Federal Reserve has to transform America to a socialist model in order to maintain its own growth and ultimate power.
Of course, it's not a stretch to see how the Fed's socialist agenda will eventually encompass most of the American economy over time.
But to keep it simple, let's look at how the Fed has already done that to the benefit of its primary constituents: banks and bankers.
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