Industrial Insight

Extreme monetary policy…. | April 26, 2011

http://www.hussmanfunds.com/wmc/wmc110425.htm
April 25, 2011 Monetary Policy in 3-D

John P. Hussman, Ph.D.

One of the most important factors likely to influence the financial markets over the coming year is the extreme stance of U.S. monetary policy and the instability that could result from either normalizing that stance, or failing to normalize it. It is not evident that quantitative easing, even at its present extremes, has altered real GDP by more than a fraction of 1% (keep in mind that commonly reported GDP growth rates are quarterly changes multiplied by 4 to annualize them). Moreover, it’s well established – on the basis of both U.S. and international data – that the “wealth effect” from stock market changes is on the order of 0.03-0.05% in GDP for every 1% change in stock market value, and the impact tends to be transitory at that.

Still, by replacing an enormous quantity of interest-bearing assets with non-interest bearing money, quantitative easing has created profound distortions in asset prices, where Treasury bills now yield less than 5 basis points annually, while “risk assets” such as stocks and commodities have been driven to prices high enough that their likely future returns now compete perfectly (on a time-horizon and risk-adjusted basis) with the zero expected returns on cash.

Taken together, despite the limited and transitory real effects of QE on output and employment, the Federal Reserve has created an unprecedented monetary position that creates an extremely unstable equilibrium for the financial markets. There are several ways that this might be resolved. Based on the very robust relationship between short-term interest rates and the monetary base, it is clear that a normalization of short-term interest rates, even to 0.25-0.50%, would require the Federal Reserve to fully reverse the $600 billion of asset purchases it conducted under QE2. Alternatively, with the monetary base now exceeding 16 cents for every dollar of nominal GDP, any external upward pressure on interest rates (that is, not produced by a Fed-initiated reduction in the monetary base) would quickly provoke inflationary pressures.

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