Bernanke’s $4 Trillion Quantitative Easing Dilemma
By: Mike Whitney
Oct 26, 2010
Ben Bernanke is in a real fix. His quantitative easing (QE) program is designed to boost stock prices, lower bond yields, and weaken the dollar.
But the market has already priced all that in, so when he announces the start of the program on November 3, there’s a good chance that things will either stay the same or head in the opposite direction. That’s bad for Bernanke. Just imagine if the dollar strengthens just as the Fed chairman begins buying-up Treasuries to push the dollar down. He’ll look pretty foolish. But that could happen because the dollar has already slipped nearly 7% since August and is overdue for a rebound.
So, what should he do? Should he go ahead and launch his program anyway knowing it could backfire and further damage his credibility or scrap the whole deal and move on to Plan B?
The truth is, he has no choice. If he doesn’t follow through now, investors will accuse him of “withdrawing liquidity” and send the market into a nosedive. So, he has to go forward and let the chips fall where they may. If QE2 turns out to be a bust, so be it.
A new report from Goldman Sach’s economist Jan Hatzius figures that “the Fed will need to print $4 trillion…to close the Taylor gap.” (zero hedge) That means it will take roughly $4 trillion for QE to do what it’s supposed to do. New York Times columnist Paul Krugman’s estimates are even higher. He thinks it will take $8 to 10 trillion of QE to push down long-term rates enough to sustain the recovery. Of course, no one is even considering expanding the Fed’s balance sheet by that amount because it would put the central bank’s future at risk and might not work anyway. Instead, Bernanke plans to take baby steps, purchasing $200 to $300 billion in Treasuries at a time, hoping that the smaller amounts buoy stocks and increase investment in the real economy. In other words, QE2 is not a really serious commitment of resources to address deflationary pressures, excess capacity or high unemployment at all. It’s more like giving aspirin to a cancer patient. There may some temporary relief, but the overall effects will be negligible.