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David Einhorn Explains How Ben Bernanke Is Destroying America

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Zero Hedge
October 26, 2012

David Einhorn knocks it out of the park with his very first statement during today’s Buttonwood Gathering, in a segment dedicated to one thing only: explaining how the Fed’s policies are not only not helping the economy, they are now actively destroying this country.

“Sometimes you have to look at what is the base assumption. because sometimes you have a groupthink around the base assumption and everybody agrees to the same thing and acts reflexively and doesn’t really challenge what is going on. I think we have reached that point with the monetary policy. The assumption is that if you want the economy to improve, if you want more jobs, if you want more consumption, what we need is ever-easing monetary policy. My point is that if one jelly donut is a fine thing to have, 35 jelly donuts is not a fine thing to have, and it gets to a point where it’s not a question of diminishing returns but it actually turns out to be a drag. I think we have passed the point where incremental easing of Federal policy actually acts as a headwind to the economy and is actually slowing down our recovery, and I am alarmed by the reflexive groupthink of the leaders which is if we want a stronger economy, we need lower rates, we need more QE and other such measures.”

And that, in a nutshell is it: everything else follows.

Because in addition to explaining the same fundamental error in the Fed’s logic (from an economic standpoint; we already showed what the “market” error is, namely that instead of forcing investors to buy risk assets as Bernanke’s wealth effect prerogative demands, these same investors are merely frontrunning the Fed’s purchases of bonds and MBS, in what is truly a risk free, if lower-returning trade, and is key reason why ever fewer equity market participants are left, leading to lower bank revenues, bank employee terminations, lower Federal and State tax refunds, and so on, in a closed loop) it also points out the social aspect. At one point in the interview, Einhorn observes that traders and economists now have diametrically opposing views on the effectiveness of QE (no need to explain whose view is what). The reason for this dichotomy is simple, if crucial: we are now at a point where the entire practice of new-classical economics – the bedrock thinking of all modern soecity – is at risk of being exposed for a sham “science” which is and has always been absolutely flawed. Because when one day the Fed fails to prop up the Fed, and fail it will, all the economists that encouraged the Fed to do what it does, without grasping the true implications of ‘diminishing returns’, will be forced to fall on their swords (hopefully metaphorically but who knows). And with that the end of the shaman cult that shaped the modern world will finally end. But not before every single “economist” keen on perpetuating their job, their tenure, and their paycheck for as long as possible, backs the Chairman fully and unconditionally: anything less, any outright dissent within the economic cabal, would lead to a far faster unwind of the Fed’s policy artifice even faster than it otherwise will fail.

Recall that this was precisely the dilemma before the Bundesbank as we explained yesterday, when it did what it had full right to do openly, yet did secretly, when it pulled its gold inventory from London: it implicitly confirmed it was no longer a willing participant of the NWO, and no longer is willing to sacrifice its sovereign independence at the altar of Keynesianism, and monetary theory.

But back to Einhorn, who presents one of the most coherent explanations why QE, contrary to the Chairman’s “best intentions” does nothing to stimulate the economy at the consumer level, and why it effectively serves as a hindrance to future growth:

“Lower rates drive up the cost of commodities: oil and food. And money that is spent on oil is sent out of the country to the Mideast and it doesn’t help, and takes out income from people’s pockets that could otherwise be spent on other goods. The second [ZH: and this is by far the biggest thing that the Fed refuses to acknowledge]is that not being able to earn a safe return on savings, is causing people to hoard savings rather than consume. In other words if I know I am going to earn 3% in the bank I can spend that income and I can have visibility towards that, but if I know I’m going to earn zero in the bank, in order to figure out how much I need to save for retirement I need to save a much bigger number. Which means I can’t spend much now, I need to save more now, to build up those savings for retirement. If I am already retired and I am on fixed income, my income has now really gone down and I have to hoard money so I can spread it out thinner over a longer part of my life. So by denying individuals savings or interest on income on their savings, it is causing hoarding which is driving down consumption which is hurting the economy.”

As a reminder, in America consumption, not the government (which despite incorrect claims to the contrary has never created even one penny of wealth), is responsible for 70% of annual GDP. Is it any wonder that the Fed’s own policies, done solely to protect the financial system, and to enrich those whose wealth is already primarily in the stock market (the infamous “1%”), are the cause of the ongoing catastrophe that is the destruction of America’s middle class, which day after day sinks lower and lower?

Also, in direct debunking of all those Magic Money Tree (aka MMT) “economists” who say that government deficits are a great thing because the lead to higher savings, while maybe true on paper, Einhorn shows that the “expectations” component of behavior here is far more critical than what simplistic Econ 101 textbooks claim, especially the ones that were written long before anyone thought that the US would have a Zero Interest Rate Policy for at least 7 years (and likely more until the runaway inflation finally hits):

In terms of the savings, I don’t think it’s a zero sum, because it’s a multiplier on the behavior. It’s not just the income I am not receiving now. It is the income I don’t expect to receive in the future as well. Now we are years years into [ZIRP] with a promise of at least three more, so that’s seven years, and you are getting a change in behavior on a multiplied basis.

Finally, and touching on the previous point of why theoretical economists’ views differ so much from those who practically make a living by being right for a change, Einhorn is laconic: “It’s very hard for economists with models, with very limited sample sets and empirical data to understand [that we've gone beyond the point of monetary policy diminishing returns.] I think you wind up with a different view from people like me in the real world who aren’t just trying to figure out what do the models say, but how do people actually behave…. We’ve opened up enormous tail risks of what happens if the Fed loses control, what happens if the Treasury loses controland these scare people and drive up risk premiums, and drive down P/E multiples and makecompanies defer long-term investments in the country because they are worried about significant tail risks these very aggressive policies are creating.” And there you have it – someone please advise Paul Krugman and his cotterie of useless voodoo shamans whose only recommendation has always been more of the same. Pardon: much, much more.

None of the what Einhorn said in today’s Buttonwood gathering of course is news, as he simply reiterated everything he said in his letter to investors from Tuesday, which is just as effective at explaining how the Fed’s solipsistic illogical methods are bankrupting America. The key section in that letter is the following excerpt:

It seems as if nothing will stop the money printing, and Chairman Bernanke in fact assures us that it will continue even after the economic recovery strengthens. Specifically, he says, “Even after the economy starts to recover more quickly, even after the unemployment rate begins to move down more decisively, we’re not going to rush to begin to tighten policy.” Apparently, anything less than a $40 billion per month subscription order for MBS is now considered ‘tightening’. He’s letting us know that what once looked like a purchasing spree of unimaginable proportions is now just the monthly budget.

Chairman Bernanke concedes that this policy hurts savers, then offers some verbal sleight-of-hand worthy of a three-card monte hustle: He says the savers are helped by low rates because low rates support higher asset values and promote a healthy and growing economy. He then goes on to say that because savers benefit from a healthy and growing economy, we must therefore have an accommodative policy. This in turn begs the question: Does an accommodative policy promote a healthy economy? Chairman Bernanke argues that higher asset values create a wealth effect, which he again describes, “if people feel that their financial situation is better because their 401(k) looks better or for whatever reason, their house is worth more, they are more willing to go out and spend.”

We have just spent 15 years learning that a policy of creating asset bubbles is a bad idea, so it is hard to imagine why the Fed wants to create another one. But perhaps the more basic question is: How fruitful is the wealth effect? Is the additional spending that these volatile paper profits are intended to induce overwhelmed by the lost consumption of the many savers who are deprived of steady, recurring interest income? We have asked several well-known economists who publicly support the Fed’s policy and found that they don’t have good answers.

And so on. If by now it is unclear to anyone that Bernanke is not only not doing anything to help America, or the world, but is merely accelerating this country’s destruction, and perpetuating the same practices that result in breakouts of food price shocks leading to isolated genocide in those parts of the world without a safety net, then we congratulate you on your imminent receipt of a Nobel prize in Economics.

Finally, for those asking “what should be done”, Einhorn’s suggestion is identical to the one Zero Hedge has preached to its readers since day 1, nearly 4 years ago. And we don’t even charge 2 and 20…

If Chairman Bernanke is setting distant and hard-to-achieve benchmarks for when he would reverse course, it is possibly because he understands that it may never come to that. Sooner or later, we will enter another recession. It could come from normal cyclicality, or it could come from an exogenous shock. Either way, when it comes, it is very likely we will enter it prior to the Fed having ‘normalized’ monetary policy, and we’ll have a large fiscal deficit to boot. What tools will the Fed and the Congress have at that point? If the Fed is willing to deploy this new set of desperate measures in these frustrating, but non-desperate times, what will it do then? We don’t know, but a large allocation to gold still seems like a very good idea.

So who should listen to: a failed historian-economist who has never worked in the real world, who has no idea how human behavior plays out in reality, who has lived in an ivory tower all his life, and who has never had to put his money where his mouth is, or a self-made billionaire? For us the choice is clear.

* * *

The Einhorn segment in the Economist clip below starts 56 minutes in.

Watch live streaming video from theeconomist at livestream.com

And for more context, here is what Einhorn said about the Fed in his latest letter to clients:

Central bankers have been on a money printing spree. In Japan, they expanded monetary easing by ¥10 trillion. In the U.K., the Bank of England monetized another £50 billion of gilts. ECB President Mario Draghi promised “unlimited” bond buying, and the Swiss are committed to putting a floor under the Franc through unlimited purchases of Euros and other assets.

This buying binge brings to mind American Express cards, which are famous for their promise of no pre-set spending limits. But as some AmEx customers have learned, there is a spending limit – they just don’t tell you what it is. AmEx anticipates how much you can repay based on your annual income and your payment history. When your charges exceed their estimates, they cut you off until you pay off your balance.

Central bankers should keep this dynamic in mind, as they continue to run their printing presses. While the ink may be endless, the market’s tolerance is not (though there is no sign that it is nearly exhausted). Like American Express, the market won’t let the central bankers know what their spending limits are until they have exceeded them and get cut off.

Here in the U.S., Chairman Bernanke announced desperate measures in non-desperate times. The Fed will be using its new AmEx Debasium card to buy a minimum of $40 billion per month worth of mortgage-backed securities…indefinitely. If the job market doesn’t show “substantial improvement” the Fed might increase its monthly MBS allocation, or head over to aisle 3 to pick up some Treasuries. When asked what would bring the binge to an end, Chairman Bernanke was more intent on emphasizing all the things that would necessitate further easing. In conjunction with the money printing, Chairman Bernanke has promised zero percent interest rates through the middle of 2015.

It seems as if nothing will stop the money printing, and Chairman Bernanke in fact assures us that it will continue even after the economic recovery strengthens. Specifically, he says, “Even after the economy starts to recover more quickly, even after the unemployment rate begins to move down more decisively, we’re not going to rush to begin to tighten policy.” Apparently, anything less than a $40 billion per month subscription order for MBS is now considered ‘tightening’. He’s letting us know that what once looked like a purchasing spree of unimaginable proportions is now just the monthly budget.

One observation: it is not $40 billion. It is $85 billion as we said the day QE3 was announced:

New Normal market expectation: $85 billion in Fed Flow every month. Anything less is “tightening”

Because remember: exchanging Long-Term debt which has massive 10 year equivalent duration, with risk free paper, aka Operation Twist and of which $45 billion takes place each month (i.e., the direct monetization of all gross Treasury issuance with a maturity more than 10 Years) is merely another “Flow” type operation.

Einhorn continues:

Chairman Bernanke concedes that this policy hurts savers, then offers some verbal sleight-of-hand worthy of a three-card monte hustle: He says the savers are helped by low rates because low rates support higher asset values and promote a healthy and growing economy. He then goes on to say that because savers benefit from a healthy and growing economy, we must therefore have an accommodative policy. This in turn begs the question: Does an accommodative policy promote a healthy economy? Chairman Bernanke argues that higher asset values create a wealth effect, which he again describes, “if people feel that their financial situation is better because their 401(k) looks better or for whatever reason, their house is worth more, they are more willing to go out and spend.”

We have just spent 15 years learning that a policy of creating asset bubbles is a bad idea, so it is hard to imagine why the Fed wants to create another one. But perhaps the more basic question is: How fruitful is the wealth effect? Is the additional spending that these volatile paper profits are intended to induce overwhelmed by the lost consumption of the many savers who are deprived of steady, recurring interest income? We have asked several well-known economists who publicly support the Fed’s policy and found that they don’t have good answers.

If Chairman Bernanke is setting distant and hard-to-achieve benchmarks for when he would reverse course, it is possibly because he understands that it may never come to that. Sooner or later, we will enter another recession. It could come from normal cyclicality, or it could come from an exogenous shock. Either way, when it comes, it is very likely we will enter it prior to the Fed having ‘normalized’ monetary policy, and we’ll have a large fiscal deficit to boot. What tools will the Fed and the Congress have at that point? If the Fed is willing to deploy this new set of desperate measures in these frustrating, but non-desperate times, what will it do then? We don’t know, but a large allocation to gold still seems like a very good idea.

This article was posted: Friday, October 26, 2012 at 2:13 am





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