Sink QE! (the money-printing plan, that is)

The Federal Reserve made it official yesterday saying it is "full steam ahead for the money-printing operation" despite it not actually helping the economy grow by much. Policymakers has hoped that by creating trillions of dollars people would borrow more and banks would be able to loan more freely. Instead, the extra money created a stock-market bubble.

By JOHN CRUDELE
Last Updated: 12:44 AM, May 2, 2013
NY Post

Quantitative easing must die!

The Federal Reserve made it official yesterday, saying it’s full steam ahead for the money-printing operation that is creating all sorts of financial dislocations without helping the economy grow very much.

Nobody expected anything different, although Wall Street had been hoping Fed policymakers would lose what little sense they have left and print even more money.

As Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke apparently prepares to retreat into the safety of academia, it is time to look at the damage QE (think crinkly C-notes, not luxury cruise liners) is doing.

First, QE’s scant achievements.

By pumping an excessive amount of money into the banking system, QE may have saved the US financial system from catastrophe.

May have! That is, if you buy the argument being sold mainly by frantic members of Congress whining on TV that the banking system was near collapse in the early days of the financial crisis.

That’s so 2007. There is no crisis today, and any bank that hasn’t gotten itself upright by now and still needs an unlimited money supply doesn’t deserve to be in business.

QE also helped lots of people refinance debt (especially mortgages) at much lower interest rates. And those folks will be eternally grateful.

One of the debtors that’s been helped enormously by lower rates is Uncle Sam. Without the ability to borrow so cheaply, Washington would have been forced long ago to trim spending — or run deficits even larger than today’s incomprehensible ones.

OK, let’s start with the worst of the bad things. QE has changed the very nature of the free-market system. And it has jeopardized America’s standing as the one safe financial haven in the world.

Policymakers had hoped that creating trillions of dollars in extra dough would cause people to borrow more and banks to lend more freely. The economy would boom, the Fed said.

Instead this extra money (liquidity is the phrase used on Wall Street) has created another stock-market bubble and left the economy limping.

Some people like it when stocks are rising, especially the elite rich who can afford the risk that comes with timing a bubble just right.

But the losers are the majority of Americans who rely on income from savings rates that hover at budget-breaking lows. They’ve been battered for years and have had to cut back on spending. Essentially, they are paying a hidden tax to kept Washington’s debt lower.

There are other problems.

Big investors like pension funds, insurance companies, school endowments and run-of-the-mill rich people haven’t been able to find the returns they are accustomed to in normal markets. So they’ve been moving into more tangible assets, or at least ones that are connected to the real world.

So for years Americans have been paying more, for instance, for gasoline because Wall Street in its quest for higher yields has been jacking up the value of energy futures contracts.

Gasoline might be a buck a gallon cheaper today if the market weren’t dominated by Wall Street traders looking for alternative investments because of QE.

And then there’s housing.

You may have heard that home prices are climbing dramatically, but homeownership fell to the lowest level in 17 years during the first quarter.

What’s that about?

As I mentioned in a recent column, sales are mainly better and prices are rising because financial giants like Blackstone Group, Colony Capital and others are buying in bulk.

In this environment of low interest rates and a lack of other safe investments, real estate is suddenly looking good to the ultrawealthy.

These are part of the unintended consequences of QE that affect you directly.

Then there are more esoteric problems, like trust in the US dollar.

If foreign investors suddenly lose faith that their money in US banks is safe, interest rates are going to rise sharply, the economy will suffer, and our quality of life will diminish substantially.

QE is like the snakehead fish recently found in that Harlem pond: It’s ugly and very hard to kill.

Bernanke has said it will be a cinch to unwind QE, or un-print the trillions in extra loot. But nobody has ever tried doing it before.

The Fed is already starting to blame politicians for all of our problems. And while the folks in Congress and the White House do share a great deal of blame, the Fed finger-pointing should start in the mirror.

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