Chapter Four ended as a cartel of powerful bankers gathered on Jekyll Island to develop a plan for creating a central banking system which would work for their interests.
John Pierpont Morgan was no stranger to how central banks worked. He had witnessed their power firsthand.
Junius S. Morgan, Pierpont's father, became a partner at George Peabody and Company in 1854 and moved to London - where the American-born Peabody had been bankrolled by Baron Nathan Mayer Rothschild. At the time, the rich and powerful Rothschilds exerted extraordinary control over the Bank of England.
George Peabody and Company rode the mania for railroad shares, whose prices in 1857 were benefiting from the Crimean War's impact on rising grain prices, which Western railroads transported in huge quantities.
But the good times didn't last.
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.\
What You Absolutely Need to Know About Money (Part 4)
Chapter Three ended with the rise of J.P. Morgan and how he used chronic boom and bust cycles to his own great advantage. That brings us to the Panic of 1907.
The Panic of 1907 was a seminal event in the history of banking. It spawned the Federal Reserve System - but not immediately. There would be a long cloak-and-dagger affair before the Federal Reserve Act was signed into law - while Americans were distracted - two days before Christmas, on December 23, 1913.
How Congress was duped by many of its own, and how the public was blindsided into believing their government was creating a safer banking system is a testament to the power of private banks to run and, for their own profit, ruin America.
Here's how it all happened.
There's More Than One Way for the Fed to End QE
The market has been looking ahead to the inevitable end of the U.S. Federal Reserve's quantitative easing (QE) program with considerable apprehension.
Most market observers expect the end of the Fed's QE asset-purchasing program to immediately result in a sharp sell-off in bonds and higher interest rates.
This is expected to hit the mortgage-backed securities (MBS) market, where the Fed has been very active, quite hard.
As part of a policy to communicate more openly with the markets, Chairman Ben Bernanke and the Fed have been regularly launching QE exit strategy trial balloons into the market to see how quickly they get shot down.
The latest exit strategy that has been gaining traction is the idea of "tapering" QE asset purchases so that there isn't a sudden halt to supply of money flowing from the Fed into the Treasury and MBS markets. The markets seem to be pretty sanguine about the tapering idea, although there has been no specific suggestion on timing.
Instead, the markets have been concentrating on how the Fed will get rid of all of the assets it has accumulated on its balance sheet during the QE program.
Ben Bernanke Testimony: We Have "Belts, Suspenders" to Unwind Balance Sheet
The two-day Ben Bernanke testimony before Congress continues today (Wednesday) as the U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman faces the House Financial Services Committee. Members will grill Bernanke for more information on the Fed's exit strategy from quantitative easing (QE) and its easy money policy.
While Bernanke did admit yesterday to the Senate Banking Committee that "there's no risk-free approach" to unwinding the $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program, he shed little light on how the QE measures would end.
In fact, Bernanke's vague answer to Sen. Richard Shelby, R-AL, when asked how the Fed will deleverage the balance sheet, was this: "In terms of exiting from our balance sheet... a couple of years ago we put out a plan; we have a set of tools. I think we have belts, suspenders - two pairs of suspenders. I think we have the technical means to unwind at the appropriate time; of course picking the exact moment to do, of course, is always difficult."
The buying is expected to continue until the Fed sees the unemployment rate fall to at least 6.5%, but Fed critics are concerned about the nearly $3 trillion balance sheet Bernanke has built up already.
With Unchecked U.S. Spending, It's Time to Hedge Against Inflation
Uncontrolled government spending could force the Fed to monetize the government's debt, creating runaway inflation, former Federal Reserve Governor Frederic Mishkin warned in a report.
If these circumstances were to occur, the Fed would be unable to do much, if anything, to control inflation, Mishkin said in the report, presented at a conference at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
In that case, Mishkin and his co-authors, David Greenlaw, James Hamilton and Peter Hooper, argue that the result could be "a flight from the dollar," according to a summary of the report by noted Fed-watcher Steven K. Beckner writing for MNI.
The report states, "Countries with high debt loads are vulnerable to an adverse feedback loop in which doubts by lenders lead to higher sovereign interest rates, which in turn make the debt problems more severe ... Countries with debt above 80% of GDP and persistent current-account deficits are vulnerable to a rapid fiscal deterioration as a result of these tipping-point dynamics."
The authors of the report estimate U.S. net debt, excluding debt held by the Social Security Trust Fund, at about 80% of GDP in 2011, double what it was a few years before. To make matters worse, the United States runs a persistent current account deficit, which is funded by borrowing from other countries.
This puts the U.S. in a worse spot than Japan which, although its debt is much higher as a percentage of GDP, has a large current account surplus and a high savings rate.
What Every Investor Should Know About the End of QE
Equity markets around the world yesterday expressed their distaste for the possible end of the Federal Reserve's quantitative easing (QE) policy.
Share prices tumbled from New York to Tokyo. Even resource-rich Australia and emerging markets, including China, saw shares decline following the release of the minutes of last month's Federal Open Market Committee meeting.
What upset the markets was a discussion at the January FOMC meeting about when and, more importantly, how to end the current QE policy.
As someone put it on Bloomberg Radio yesterday, "Would the markets have been happier if the FOMC was ignoring the issue of how to end QE?"
To understand how ending the QE policy might affect the economy and markets, investors need to understand how QE operates.
The Bernanke Shock
The financial world was shocked this month by a demand from Germany's Bundesbank to repatriate a large portion of its gold reserves held abroad.
By 2020, Germany wants 50% of its total gold reserves back in Frankfurt - including 300 tons from the Federal Reserve.
The Bundesbank's announcement comes just three months after the Fed refused to submit to an audit of its holdings on Germany's behalf. One cannot help but wonder if the refusal triggered the demand.
Either way, Germany appears to be waking up to a reality for which central banks around the world have been preparing: the dollar is no longer the world's safe-haven asset and the US government is no longer a trustworthy banker for foreign nations.
It looks like their fears are well-grounded, given the Fed's seeming inability to return what is legally Germany's gold in a timely manner. Germany is a developed and powerful nation with the second largest gold reserves in the world.
If they can't rely on Washington to keep its promises, who can?
FOMC Preview: Will the Fed Continue its $85B/Month Bond-Buying Program?
Investors will be looking to the Federal Reserve Wednesday for clues about how long it might continue its bond-buying program aimed at pushing interest rates down.
The Federal Open Market Committee is expected to release a policy statement at 2:15 p.m. Wednesday, the second day of its two-day meeting.
In keeping with a practice it began last January, the first meeting of the new year will highlight the FOMC's long-term goals and monetary policy.
The Central Bank likely will reiterate the goal it has maintained all of last year: boosting the stagnant U.S. economy.The Fed's first meeting of 2013 comes after an extraordinarily busy year, capped by two key moves in December.
That's when the Fed said it would continue spending $85 billion a month on bond purchases to keep interest rates low. At the same time, the Fed set unemployment and inflation "thresholds" instead of a date when the central bank expected to be able to raise interest rates.
Will the Fed End QE This Summer?
Amid all of the hoopla over the Standard & Poor's 500 Index touching 1,500 on Friday, it seems few people noticed that the yield on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds has risen to within a couple of basis points of 2%. That is nearly 30 basis points higher than it was one month ago and 10 basis points higher than one year ago.
It seems as if the bond market is beginning to price in higher inflation at the long end of the yield curve, and that is something that has got to be worrying the Fed.
Successive rounds of quantitative easing (QE) have added a lot of liquidity to the U.S. economy and this has been repeated globally with massive amounts of liquidity being pumped into the market by the Bank of Japan (BOJ), the European Central Bank (ECB) and the Bank of England (BOE).
The Bank of Japan has committed itself to further aggressive easing under pressure from the newly elected government headed by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. Even if BOJ Governor Masaaki Shirakawa has any second thoughts about additional easing, he will keep them to himself.