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How Would You Like to Earn -5% On Cash Deposits?

Posted by Larry Doyle on April 27, 2009 1:12 PM |

Can you imagine putting money into a bank and agreeing to accept a minus 5% rate of interest? Well, the Federal Reserve believes the appropriate rate of interest for this economy is in fact -5%. The FT reports, “Fed Study Puts Ideal U.S. Interest Rate at -5%.”

The world is awash in a sea of debt. The debt is piled highest in Europe on a relative basis while in actual terms the debt in the United States outpaces all other parts of the world. As the deleveraging process continues, the demand for new money to spur growth is anemic. The paradox of thrift (excessive savings inhibits growth) is keeping our economy in a state of stagnation. The Fed and U.S. Treasury are utilizing all tools in their box to restructure debt and promote lending without risking default. Ultimately, all the Fed and Treasury programs will devalue the debt via inflation. Inflation, in which future dollars are worth less than current dollars, is akin to paying a negative rate of interest on money.

So when you think of the policies being promoted by Geithner, Bernanke, Obama, Summers, Jarrett, Orszag, and the rest of the administration, review them in light of that rate of interest on your money.

As the FT reports:

The ideal interest rate for the US economy in current conditions would be minus 5 per cent, according to internal analysis prepared for the Federal Reserve’s last policy meeting.

The analysis was based on a so-called Taylor-rule approach that estimates an appropriate interest rate based on unemployment and inflation.

A central bank cannot cut interest rates below zero. However, the staff research suggests the Fed should maintain unconventional policies that provide stimulus roughly equivalent to an interest rate of minus 5 per cent.

Fed staff separately estimated what size and type of unconventional operations, including asset purchases, might provide this level of stimulus. They suggested that the Fed should expand its asset purchases by even more than the $1,150bn (€885bn, £788bn) increase policymakers authorised at the last meeting, which included $300bn of Treasury purchases.

I do believe this report as being accurate of the administration’s intentions. At every turn, members of the administration have put forth proposals and policies consistent with this negative interest rate approach. It would be foolhardy to think that the administration will stop now. Thus, we should expect a continued expansion of the Fed’s balance sheet, more quantitative easing, more capital injections into the banking system, and no hesitation at ongoing fiscal stimulus. Will Congress look to impose fiscal discipline? Do you really think Nancy Pelosi, Harry Reid, Chris Dodd or any other liberal Democrat will stop spending especially if they are told it is the right approach? They have lived for this day.

The end game will be inflation. The administration wants it. The risk is hyper-inflation.

How do stocks react to a bout of inflation and potentially hyper-inflation? Very good question. Companies with pricing power should do well. Those companies without pricing power will likely suffer.

How do bonds (fixed income instruments) react to a bout of inflation and potentially hyper-inflation? Bonds will decline in value precipitously.

What do market participants think?


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