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Heavy-Handed Politics

"€œGod willing, with the force of God behind it, we shall soon experience a world
without the United States and Zionism."€ -- Iran President Ahmadi-Nejad

Monday, December 22, 2008

Is the Medicine Worse Than the Illness?

"The world ran out of trust in 2008 -- but there is no shortage of money because the Fed is printing like mad. It's the wrong approach, with potentially dire consequences, says James Grant." ---WSJ

Good essay in the Wall St. Journal by James Grant. Here is an excerpt:
In this crisis, the Fed's assets have grown much faster than its capital. The truth is that the Federal Reserve is itself a highly leveraged financial institution. The flagship branch of the 12-bank system, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, shows assets of $1.3 trillion and capital of just $12.2 billion. Its leverage ratio, a mere 0.9%, is less than one-third of that prescribed for banks in the private sector. Such a thin film of protection would present no special risk if the bank managed by Timothy F. Geithner, the Treasury secretary-designate, owned only short-dated Treasurys. However, the mystery meat acquired from Bear Stearns and AIG foots to $66.6 billion. A writedown of just 18.3% in the value of those risky portfolios would erase the New York Fed's capital account. In congressional testimony eight years ago, Laurence Meyer, then a Fed governor, tried to allay any such concerns (which then must have seemed remote, indeed). "Creditors of central banks...are at no risk of a loss because the central bank can always create additional currency to meet any obligation denominated in that currency," he soothingly reminded his listeners.

Yes, today's policy makers allow, there are risks to "creating" a trillion or so of new currency every few months, but that is tomorrow's worry. On today's agenda is a deflationary abyss. Frostbite victims tend not to dwell on the summertime perils of heatstroke.

But the seasons of finance are unpredictable. Prescience is rare enough in the private sector. It is almost unheard of in Washington. The credit troubles took the Fed unawares. So, likely, will the outbreak of the next inflation. Already the stars are aligned for a doozy. Not only the Fed, but also the other leading central banks are frantically ramping up money production. Simultaneously, miners and oil producers are ramping down commodity production -- as is, for instance, is Rio Tinto, the heavily encumbered mining giant, which the other day disclosed 14,000 layoffs and a $5 billion cutback in capital expenditure. Come the economic recovery, resource producers will certainly increase output. But it is far less certain that, once the cycle turns, the central banks will punctually tighten.
Read all of it here.

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