Skip to comments.Is the Fed Losing the Fight Against Deflation?
Posted on 11/15/2012 3:06:11 AM PST by gotribe
Prior to the financial markets' obsession over the looming fiscal cliff, their single-minded focus was on monetary policy. Now, two months after the Federal Reserve announced its so-called QE3, its third round of quantitative easing, it appears the fuss was much ado about very little.
Ben Bernanke seems to be losing his battle with deflation, observes Walter J. Zimmerman, chief technical analyst for United-ICAP. So far, the Fed's scheme announced in September to buy $40 billion of mortgage-backed securities for however long it takes to lower unemployment has little to show for it. Quite to the contrary, market prices show the U.S. central bank has shown itself impotent in its fight against the undertow of deflation.
Governments are the other great beneficiaries of the bond market's beneficence -- for now. There has been no penalty for the U.S. hurtling toward the fiscal cliff -- and more potential downgrades of its remaining triple-A ratings from Moody's and Fitch after last year's cut by Standard & Poor's -- while the Treasury can borrow at record-low interest rates. The so-called bond vigilantes of yore -- who in the 1980s and 1990s sharply boosted interest rates at the first sign of inflation -- are overcome by the central bank's purchases of the securities that finance the budget deficit. So, Bernanke & Co. are enablers of the dysfunction in D.C.
But, the signs are building that even the Fed is failing in its main aim of QE3, the blunting of deflationary forces. Along with equities, Zimmerman points out that even the DJ-UBS Commodity Index is down 8.4% since the mid-September announcement -- a sharp contrast to the 42% total rise after QE1, the 23% pop after QE2 and the 8.6% gain after Operations Twist.
(Excerpt) Read more at online.barrons.com ...
(if link takes you to protected article, search headline on Google News for free version.)
When the Fed buys U.S. Treasury bills, it allows the U.S. government to print money and flood the market with it. That's why it was "inflationary" in nature (from a purely monetary standpoint, at least). But when the Fed buys mortgage securities, it is simply acquiring ownership of assets backed by money that was put out in the marketplace when the original mortgage was extended -- maybe years ago.
Again -- I'm surprised more folks out there haven't picked up on this. QE3 was never supposed to be a "stimulus" measure. It was a mechanism for taking troubled mortgage securities off the books of large institutional investors and getting them out of sight.
Question who do they buy "mortgage securities" from?
I can almost guarantee you that they purchased those mortgage securities from major U.S. brokerage houses and foreign banks that had ended up “holding the bag” when the real estate market crashed in 2008.
I wonder if there is a way to find out where exactly this money is going? Who holds the securities they are buying up? Because it sounds like to me we are just buying up worthless pieces of paper.
It seems to me QE3 does involve inflationary money printing. A simple example. The Fed buys a $500K non performing mortgage from Well Fargo backed by a house that is today worth only $300k. Had Wells foreclosed on the mortgage instead of selling it to the Fed, Wells would have received $300K cash from the sale and booked a $200K economic loss. By selling to the Fed, Wells receives $500K in newly printed money which it can now loan to customers. There is now $500K cash available to Wells instead of the $300K from a normal foreclosure.
Looking at the Fed, it printed $500K and bought an asset worth $300K. If it liquidates the asset it receives $300K and writes off $200K. The $200K represents printed money the Fed put in circulation by buying the mortgage from Wells at a premium.
The only way there is no stimulus effect from QE3 mortgage buying is if all mortgages purchased by the Fed are performing and are eventually fully paid off or if the mortgages are resold by the Fed for the Fed book value of the mortgage at time of sale.
What is the link supposed to tell me?
Think of this chain of events ...
1. Someone buys a home in 2007 with a $300,000 mortgage. This money is basically created "out of thin air" when the bank borrows money from the U.S. central bank and lends it to the homeowner.
2. The person who sold the home gets the $300,000. Maybe they use it to buy another home, or maybe they just put it aside for their retirement. In either case, the $300,000 is new money in circulation.
3. The bank sells the loan to a brokerage house that packages it with other loans and sells it to institutional investors as a mortgage-backed security (MBS).
4. The homeowner loses his job in 2009 and stops paying the mortgage. It takes a long time to figure this out, but eventually it is determined that the holder of the MBS actually "owns" the home now. But since nobody wants to foreclose on the home, it just sits there in a state of limbo for a couple of years while the homeowner continues to live there without paying the mortgage. Nobody presses him to pay it, either. The holder of the MBS is basically holding a worthless piece of paper that isn't generating any income ... but it still has a "face value" of $300,000 (or whatever the outstanding balance on the mortgage was when the homeowner defaulted).
This is where things stood in 2011-12. So the Fed decides to come to the rescue -- of the MBS holder, first and foremost ...
5. The Fed announces a QE3 program under which billions of dollars of mortgage-backed securities will be "purchased."
6. The holder of our worthless MBS sells it to the Fed, along with the $300,000 mortgage that hasn't been generating any income in several years.
7. No money gets "put back into circulation" at all. The institutional investor thanks its lucky stars, and considers itself fortunate that it had been
bribing lobbying members of Congress and presidential candidates for years. They take the proceeds of the MBS sale and they do with it whatever they would have done if they had never bought it in the first place back in 2008. Maybe they buy U.S. Treasury bills, maybe they buy foreign securities, or maybe they buy municipal bonds.
8. The Fed now has to deal with the delinquent mortgage.
This is where things stand right now in 2012. There's no net impact on the U.S. economy because the $300,000 mortgage originally extended to the homeowner was used to purchase a home that wasn't really worth $300,000 in the first place.
In the scenario you describe, there is no "inflation" because the $500,000 has already been in circulation for years. Your post makes it more clear what is actually going on here ... the Fed is paying $500,000 to Wells Fargo to avoid having Wells Fargo book a $200,000 loss because booking a $200,000 loss would have deflationary consequences.
That's why the bank never foreclosed on the property in the first place, and why the Fed will never liquidate the asset and take the $200,000 loss themselves. The Fed will do whatever it takes to maintain the illusion that the mortgage is worth $500,000 -- even if it means pressing U.S. politicians to flood the country with new immigrants to help inflate demand for housing in the U.S.
Now is all the recent talk about the DREAM Act, amnesty, etc. starting to make sense?
Just one question about your chain of events;
Exactly WHERE does the $700,000,000,000+ TARP money that was laundered through AIG to the banks fit in?
That's why U.S. Treasuries are being sold at record-low interest rates even while the U.S. credit rating is declining.
My understanding was that since the MBS couldn’t be unwound, it was easier to pay off (through AIG) the insurance that had been bought against those MBS failings at 100 cents on the dollar. Since many of the banks and brokerages you mention in your #3 are one and the same, TBTF, these entities are being paid off TWICE for the same loss....and THAT is why so many houses are resting in limbo (#4). Not only are they carrying an “asset” that has ALREADY been paid off, but whenever it is converted in the future, it will be pure profit.
Wall Street just followed our government's lead decades later gets all of the blame.
Maybe they buy U.S. Treasury bills, maybe they buy foreign securities, or maybe they buy municipal bonds.
This last bullet is the kicker and there is no maybe about it—the purchase is mandatory. QE3 was a grand bargain between the Fed, the Banks, and the Government. In exchange for taking these worthless properties off the Banks’s hands, the Banks now must use this $$ to buy US Treatures. So....this avoids the appearance of the Fed directly buying USTs, but the net effect is the same.
Since the Fed is doing QE3 incrementally, Banks not holding up their end of the bargain will not get their mortgage securities purchased in the future.
Of course, the big question is: will USTs eventually be even more worthless than MB securities?
PS - About the time QE3 was announced (maybe a little before), the bonds of banks that had been selling well below discount (like Bank of America) suddenly started doing very well. They gained maybe 20% in a matter of weeks.
A few years of that the properties are worth the value of the land and its utility connections.
So, how did the bank really do? What happened to the local markets. Why did the speculator let the properties deteriorate?
BTW, something that received little attention at the time, especially here at FR, was that the $700 Billion number was just some SWAG at Treasury.