Manipulations Rule The Markets
Paul Craig Roberts
Friday, December 20, 2013
The Federal Reserve’s announcement on December 18 that beginning in January its monthly purchases of mortgage-backed financial instruments and US Treasury bonds would each be cut by $5 billion is puzzling, as is the financial press’s account of the market’s response.
The Federal Reserve conveys a contradictory message. The Fed says that improvements in employment and the economy justify cutting back on bond purchases. Yet the Fed emphasizes that it is maintaining its commitment to record low interest rates “well past the time that the unemployment rate declines below 6.5 percent, especially if projected inflation continues to run below the [Open Market] Committee’s 2 percent longer-run goal. When the Committee decides to begin to remove policy accommodation it will take a balanced approach consistent with its longer-run goals of maximum employment and inflation of 2 percent.”
The last sentence in the quote states that the Fed does not regard its announced reduction in bond purchases as less accommodation or as a move toward tightening. In other words, the Fed is saying that tapering does not mean less accommodation.
To put it another way, the Fed is saying that the economy is doing well enough not to require the same amount of monthly bond purchases, but is not doing well enough to stand any change in the near zero nominal federal funds rate. The implication is that the Fed either does not think that a reduction in purchases will result in a rise in long-term interest rates or that such a rise will not derail the economy as long as the Fed keeps short-term rates at or near zero. If the $10 billion decrease in monthly bond demand results in higher long-term interest rates, what good does it do to keep the federal funds rate at zero? If the $10 billion monthly bond purchases were not needed as part of the accommodation policy, why was the Fed purchasing them?