quantitative easing 3
The more than $2.5 trillion that the Fed's bond-buying program - known as quantitative easing, or QE - has pumped into the financial system is credited with fueling the current bull market.
But while you can't blame investors for getting nervous at the thought of the end of QE, there's really nothing to worry about.
In fact, the Fed's policy-setting FOMC (Federal Open Market Committee) is now caught up in a trap of its own making - something known as a "liquidity trap." It happens when easy money policies like the Fed's zero interest rates and QE still fail to get people and businesses to spend money.
The trap is that you can't reverse the policy without discouraging spending even further, threatening to push the economy into recession (and spooking the markets, as we saw last week), while continuing it will remain ineffective.
"The biggest fear of the Federal Reserve has been the deflationary pressures that have continued to depress the domestic economy," Street Talk Live radio host Lance Roberts wrote in a recent column. "Despite the trillions of dollars of interventions by the Federal Reserve the only real accomplishment has been keeping the economy from slipping back into an outright recession."
What to Do Now as the End of QE Nears
If investors needed a reminder that global stock market rallies have been goosed by the Fed's lose monetary measures, they got it.
On Wednesday, U.S. equities went on roller-coaster ride.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average, up 155 points before FOMC Chairman Ben Bernanke said the Fed could soon begin to tap the brakes, ended the day down 80.41, or off by 0.5%,.
The uncertainty of when the Fed would begin to wind down its $85 billion-a-month in asset purchases sent investors to the sidelines in a hurry.
"This is a very sensitive market and particularity sensitive to any notion that tapering will come too soon," Quincy Krosby, market strategist at Prudential Financial in New York told Reuters.
"No one wants to be selling if the data reaches the point when the Fed begins to specifically talk about tapering. The market doesn't wait for the Fed to move. It will move before. That's how it operates," Krosby continued.
Of course, we knew QE couldn't really last forever. So what should investors do?..
Prepare for Years of "QE Forever' with Ben Bernanke at the Helm
When Ben Bernanke testified before Congress Tuesday and Wednesday, he staunchly defended his easy- money policies like quantitative easing, or "QE Forever."
"We do not see the potential costs of the increased risk-taking in some financial markets as outweighing the benefits of promoting a stronger economic recovery," the Federal Reserve chairman said.
Bernanke added the central bank takes "very seriously" the excessive risk-taking its dovish policies could provoke and is watching markets carefully.
He maintained that the bank's accommodative monetary policy has "supported real growth in employment and kept inflation close to our target [2%]."
But some Fed officials are growing concerned about quantitative easing - the Fed's purchases of $85 billion in securities a month - and believe it would be prudent to slow or stop the buying well before the end of 2013. Esther George, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, is one of the biggest hawks in the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) this year, citing unease about economic stability and inflation.
"While I share the objectives [of the FOMC]," George said in a Feb. 12 speech at the University of Nebraska Omaha, "I dissented because of possible risks and the possible costs of these policies exceeding their benefits...While I have agreed with keeping rates low to support this recovery, I know keeping interest rates near zero has its own consequences."
Despite the increasingly anxious sentiment, as long as Bernanke remains at the helm, QE Forever will be the policy. Here's why.
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.
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.
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.
QE Infinity Won't Work, But Here's What Will
Dallas Federal Reserve President Richard Fisher recently offered a stunning assessment about our policymaking central bankers down in Washington.
They're winging it.
In a talk before a Harvard Club audience, Fisher presented a candid assessment about all the levers the Fed has been pulling in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. And that includes the recently announced QE3.
"Nobody really knows what will work to get the economy back on course. And nobody-in fact, no central bank anywhere on the planet-has the experience of successfully navigating a return home from the place in which we now find ourselves. No central bank-not, at least, the Federal Reserve-has ever been on this cruise before."
I don't know about you, but the idea that four years and trillions of dollars into this quantitative easing voyage we're still sailing without a compass isn't just appalling.
Yet this ship of fools sails on.
The problem is, Fisher is right: QE3 won't work. QE1 and QE2 didn't fix this mess. Nor will QE4, QE5, onwards to infinity.
What's more, there's a cottage industry of pundits and consultants who'll agree.
Trouble is, just like Fisher and his colleagues at the Fed, none of them can tell you why it won't work.
That's what we're going to do here today.
We'll start by giving you the lowdown on how this nation's central bankers view "Quantitative Easing." Then we'll show you how the Fed thinks QE is supposed to work.
Finally, we'll punch some (actually, many) holes in in the Fed's hull by discussing why it's not working.
We'll even demonstrate what could still be done to fix this wretched mess.
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QE3 and Low Interest Rates Help Savers? Bernanke Thinks So
U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke wants you to believe his cheap money, low interest policies like QE3 actually have benefits for savers.
America's savers, many of whom are retired or nearing retirement, would beg to differ.
You see, low rates at the Fed - which has pledged to keep its interest rates near zero at least through 2015 - means low rates on conventional savings vehicles like bank accounts, certificates of deposit, and money market funds.
Those rates affect $10 trillion in savings-like products, costing savers billions of dollars.
For example, if a saver had $100 in a savings account in 2008 that paid 0.35% interest, she'd have just $102 today. But with inflation, $100 worth of goods in 2008 now costs $107.
That's a loss of 5% in four years, the sort of math that eats away at a retiree's standard of living.
And the rates of 2008 look fantastic compared to what's available now.
The Fed's actions have pushed down interest rates to microscopic levels. The average savings account interest rate has fallen one-third in the last year alone, to 0.08%.
The average yield on five-year CDs last month dropped below 1% for the first time ever. Back in 2007, five-year CDs provided a yield of 4%.
And yet in a speech he gave at the Economic Club of Indiana on Monday, Bernanke said his policies are helping savers.
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How QE3 and Higher Inflation Are Part of the Fed's Master Plan
U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke might not admit it, but he just drastically increased the inflation risks for 2013 and beyond.
That's because Bernanke pledged on Sept. 13 that QE3 -unlike the stimulus programs before it - will continue for an unlimited timeframe.
QE3 has already led to a rally in commodity prices, like the previous Fed stimulus actions.
But this time the inflationary surge will get much, much worse.
"If the governments and central bankers continue to flood the world with cheap money, it has to translate into some kind of inflation," Money Morning Global Investing Strategist Martin Hutchinson recently explained. "We started with asset inflation. But my sense is that the transition from asset inflation to consumer inflation will happen very quickly."
With median income levels at averages not seen since the mid-90s, U.S. households need to prepare their savings to survive higher prices - especially while interest rates remain near zero.
Unfortunately, it appears this environment is exactly what Ben Bernanke has in mind.
"Not only will they tolerate higher inflation, not only will they wish for higher inflation, but they actually may target higher inflation," PIMCO CEO Mohamed El-Erian told CNBC ofthe Fed. "This is a historical bet that our kids will be reading about in history books."
Here's what Bernanke has planned.
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QE3 Not Required: Three Stocks Thriving Without the Fed
When U.S. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke opened the floodgates of easy money with quantitative easing (QE3), Wall Street staged a party.
But even though the market quickly jumped to five-year highs, stocks fizzled shortly thereafter.
And that leaves investors wondering whether this market has staying power.
"The question now is if investors feel brave enough to continue to buy stocks at such elevated levels," Fawad Razaqzada, market strategist at GFT Markets wrote in a note to investors. Investors looking for a safer route should focus on companies that can thrive on their own merits -- even without an intoxicating shot of QE3.
Companies that make products we have to have - the necessities of life, in other words -- tend to be more resistant to market ups and downs.
Let's take a look at three companies that have delivered steady, reliable returns for decades -- with or without QE1, QE2, QE3 or, someday, QE99.
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