James Rickards

The U.S. dollar is the dominant global reserve currency. All markets, including stocks, bonds, commodities, and foreign exchange are affected by the value of the dollar.

The value of the dollar, in effect, its “price” is determined by interest rates. When the Federal Reserve manipulates interest rates, it is manipulating, and therefore distorting, every market in the world.

The Fed may have some legitimate role as an emergency lender of last resort and as a force to use liquidity to maintain price stability. But, the lender of last resort function has morphed into an all-purpose bailout facility, and the liquidity function has morphed into massive manipulation of interest rates.

The original sin with regard to Fed powers was the Humphrey-Hawkins Full Employment Act of 1978 signed by President Carter. This created the “dual mandate” which allowed the Fed to consider employment as well as price stability in setting policy. The dual mandate allows the Fed to manage the U.S. jobs market and, by extension, the economy as a whole, instead of confining itself to straightforward liquidity operations.

Janet Yellen, the Fed chairwoman, is a strong advocate of the dual mandate and has emphasized employment targets in the setting of Fed policy. Through the dual mandate and her embrace of it, and using the dollar’s unique role as leverage, she is a de facto central planner for the world.

Like all central planners, she will fail. Yellen’s greatest deficiency is that she does not use practical rules. Instead she uses esoteric economic models that do not correspond to reality. This approach is highlighted in two Yellen speeches. In June 2012 she described her “optimal control” model and in April 2013 she described her model of “communications policy.”

The theory of optimal control says that conventional monetary rules, such as the Taylor Rule or a commodity price standard, should be abandoned in current conditions in favor of a policy that will keep rates lower, longer than otherwise. Yellen favors use of communications policy to let individuals and markets know the Fed’s intentions under optimal control.

The idea is that over time, individuals will “get the message” and begin to make borrowing, investment and spending decisions based on the promise of lower rates. This will then lead to increased aggregate demand, higher employment and stronger economic growth. At that point, the Fed can begin to withdraw policy support in order to prevent an outbreak of inflation.

The flaws in Yellen’s models are numerous. Here are a few:

1) Under Yellen’s own model, saying she will keep rates “lower, longer” is designed to improve the economy sooner than alternative policies. But if the economy improves sooner under her policy, she will raise rates sooner. So, the entire approach is a lie. Somehow people are supposed to play along with Yellen’s low rate promise even though they intuitively understand that if things get better the promise will be rescinded. This produces confusion.

2) People are not automatons who mindlessly do what Yellen wants. In the face of the embedded contradictions of Yellen’s model, people prefer to hoard cash, stay on the sidelines and not get suckered by the bait-and-switch promise of optimal control theory. The resulting lack of investment and consumption is what is really hurting the economy. Economists call this “regime uncertainty” and it was a leading cause of the length, if not the origin, of the Great Depression of 1929-1941.

3) In order to make money under the Fed’s zero interest rate policy, banks are engaging in hidden off-balance sheet transactions, including asset swaps, which substantially increase systemic risk. In an asset swap, a bank with weak collateral will “swap” that for good collateral with an institutional investor in a transaction that will be reversed at some point. The bank then takes the good collateral and uses it for margin in another swap with another bank. In effect, a two-party deal has been turned into a three-party deal with greater risk and credit exposure all around.

4) Yellen’s zero interest rate policy constitutes massive theft from savers. Applying a normalized interest rate of about 2% to the entire savings pool in the U.S. banking system compared to the actual rate of zero, reveals a $400 billion per year wealth transfer from savers to the banks from the zero rates. This has continued for five years, so the cumulative subsidy to the banking system at the expense of everyday Americans is now over $2 trillion. This hurts investment, penalizes savers and forces retirees into inappropriate risk investments such as the stock market. Yellen supports this bank subsidy and theft from savers.

5) The Fed is now insolvent. By buying highly volatile long-term Treasury notes instead of safe short-term treasury bills, the Fed has wiped out its capital on a mark-to-market basis. Of course, the Fed carries these notes on its balance sheet “at cost” and does not mark to market, but if they did they would be broke. This fact will be more difficult to hide as interest rates are allowed to rise. The insolvency of the Fed will become a major political issue in the years ahead and may necessitate a financial bail-out of the Fed by taxpayers. Yellen is a leading advocate of the policies that have resulted in the Fed’s insolvency.

6) Market participants and policymakers rely on market prices to make decisions about economic policy. What happens when the price signals upon which policymakers rely are themselves distorted by prior policy manipulation? First you distort the price signal by market manipulation, then you rely on the “price” to guide your policy going forward. This is the blind leading the blind.

The Fed is trying to tip the psychology of the consumer toward spending through its communication policy and low rates. This is extremely difficult to do in the short run. But once you change the psychology, it is extremely difficult to change it back again.

If the Fed succeeds in raising inflationary expectations, those expectations may quickly get out of control as they did in the 1970’s. This means that instead of inflation leveling off at 3%, inflation may quickly jump to 7% or higher. The Fed believes they can dial-down the thermostat if this happens, but they will discover that the psychology is not easy to reverse and inflation will run out of control.

The solution is for Congress to repeal the dual mandate and return the Fed to its original purpose as lender of last resort and short-term liquidity provider. Central planning failed for Stalin and Mao Zedong and it will fail for Janet Yellen too.

Regards,

Jim Rickards
for The Daily Reckoning

Ed. Note: Along the way, this failure could present a handful of unique profit opportunities. And the FREE Daily Reckoning email edition will be giving readers a chance to discover several of them first hand. Sign up for FREE, right here, and never miss a single one.

You May Also Like:


Buying Gold: The Mogambo Guru Moron Test

Richard Daughty

With so much government money printing and central bank idiocy, it's a wonder more people don't realize how to combat the sheer idiocy that is modern monetary policy. Luckily the Mogambo Guru is here to enlighten us, and offers a simple test you can take to see if you are, in fact, a moron. Read on...

James Rickards

James G. Rickards is the editor of Strategic Inteliigence, the newest newsletter from Agora Financial. He is an American lawyer, economist, and investment banker with 35 years of experience working in capital markets on Wall Street. He is the author of The New York Times bestsellers Currency Wars and The Death of Money. Jim also serves as Chief Economist for West Shore Group.

  • Rando

    No one understands more (or clarifies better) than Mr. Rickards.
    Thank you.

  • Joe

    The career politicians + 99% of book worms economists. Democracy is so overrated.

Recent Articles

How Small Cap Stocks Saved the Market

Greg Guenthner

For most of the year, no one wanted small cap stocks in their portfolios. But over the last three weeks, few sectors of the market have performed better than small caps. Greg Guenthner explains how to use this to your advantage... and what to expect for the rest of 2014. Read on...


Why a Strong Dollar is the Mortal Enemy of Gold and Oil

Frank Holmes

Gold and oil are down because the US dollar is up, despite all the inflationary pressures the Fed has put on it. What's going on? Today, Frank Holmes, breaks down the U.S. economy’s current direction with several important charts. Plus, he's got a mining play for you that's prospering despite the current sentiment...


Bill Bonner
Confessions of a Newsletter Man

Bill Bonner

Being a financial newsletter writer certainly has a few advantages. Namely, it affords one the opportunity to comment on the financial markets without having to take them seriously. Today, Bill Bonner looks back on what drew him to this business, and the unique and entertaining cast of characters he's met along the way. Read on...


Extra!
The Most Important Factor of the Swiss Gold Initiative

Grant Williams

The Swiss Gold Initiative has the the Swiss National Bank in a panic. Should the referendum pass, the SNB will be responsible for ensuring that 20% of its total assets are held in gold. That's an awful lot of yellow metal. Today, Grant Williams puts that number into perspective and explains how it could affect the gold market...


R.I.P. Tapir (5/22/13 – 10/29/14)

Greg Kadajski

The Tapir, beloved pig-like mammal and financial machination, quietly passed away at 2:00 p.m. EST on October 29, 2014. He lived a misunderstood life and was held responsible for many things entirely out of his control. Nevertheless, he will be missed by all who thought they knew him...


How Solar Power Could Heat Up Your Portfolio

Greg Guenthner

Regardless of how you feel about the "green energy movement" there is no denying that solar power is becoming more mainstream. As it closes in on price parity with conventional electricity, more and more people are turning to solar as a viable source of energy. And that's great news for solar stocks. Greg Guenthner explains...