Archive for the ‘Ludwig von Mises’ Category

In March of this year, wrote that the credit crisis is not an issue of liquidity but of malinvestment enabled by central banking’s penchant for inflation.  This was also the chief cause of the Great Depression, and many economists’ misreading of the Depression as a liquidity problem has led the supposed free-market oriented Monetarists into the weeds ever since.

There is a good article over at the Von Mises website about why the bailout will delay recovery by continuing to prop up these bad investments, whether they are derivatives secured by worthless housing or anything else that is tanking. To proponents of the bailouts, Frank Shostak writes:

They argue that were it not for the Fed’s injecting $105 billion and the subsequent announcement of the rescue package, the stock market would have had a massive fall. They also believe that the massive monetary injection prevented a run on money-market mutual funds and prevented a major disaster.

They further believe that if people had taken the money out of their money-market mutual funds, banks wouldn’t be able to secure money to fund credit cards and various consumer and business loans. This in turn would have paralyzed the economy.

So let us think about this. Say that people take their money from the money-market mutual funds. What happens then? They will have placed it somewhere else, mostly likely with commercial banks. Hence money wouldn’t disappear and banks could continue to fund activities as before.

If large money-market funds were to go under, some of their assets would be sold and the shareholders would suffer losses; this however, cannot provide justification for the Fed to pump money and to introduce a rescue package. Monetary expansion and a rescue package do not undo the bad investment decisions of the money-market-mutual-fund managers. Why should people who didn’t risk investments in the fund pick up the tab?

A fall in asset prices, including stocks, and a run on financial institutions are just symptoms and not the cause of anything. The key factor behind the current difficulty in the credit markets is the lagged effect coming from the Fed’s tighter stance between June 2004 and August 2007, when the federal-funds-rate target was raised from 1% to 5.25%.

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Steve Sailer has a very funny piece on WaMu’s advertising, which bragged about the company’s contempt for stodgy old bankers. Pretty obvious generational and ethnic subtext in this ad: WaMu positioned itself as a new kind of bank for the the age of diversity and free spirits.

Interesting piece from the Von Mises Institute on the Federal Reserve’s direct involvement in Mortgage-Backed Securities (MBS). I was under the impression almost all of the Fed’s assets were in Treasury Bills, a near equivalent of cash. Since its liquidity, stability, and the like are supremely important, I’m a bit disturbed to learn this was going on through the System Open Market Account (which is also the institution that holds the Bear Stearns bailout entity, Maiden Lane, LLC.) I have no idea how much direct MBS exposure the Fed has, and I’m surprised this has not been discussed by more commenters.  Does anyone know the scoop out there? I think from this chart it’s either the “other loans” or “other assets” portion of the Federal Reserve’s asset pool. In any case, this year’s expansion of the Fed’s asset pool should be worrisome; it usually portends an equally significant expansion of their liabilities, i.e., printing of money either directly or otherwise.

Apparently the bailout is a done deal. There is no significant change in concept from original Paulson proposal other than a bit more oversight. Still no word on pricing goal, i.e., lowest possible, above market (to create upward bidding), or something in between. I will make a rare series of predictions: a rally of stocks for 1-2 months with big days this week, i.e., the last of our inflationary bubbles. A few months from now, probably after Christmas, Paulson with lame duck President Bush will solemnly announce massive and continuing losses from first wave of MBS purchases and continued deleveraging by nonparticipating or ineligible entities. The losses will stem from overpricing of the Mortgage and Asset Backed Securities (ABS) Paulson bought for the US, the stagnation of third party securities, the impact of declining credit on our consumption-oriented economy (and trade partners), and the failure of the market to push prices upwards for debt-based assets because of continuing, excessive housing inventory. In other words, this debt is toxic for a reason, and its revival depends upon an upward-moving near-term housing market, which will not materialize.

On news of the failure of the first stage of the bailout, the market tanks. Bonds fail and numerous big, credit-dependent companies seek bankruptcy. Runs on banks become more common. Credit markets manifest serious breakdowns in everything from commercial paper to auto loans. Deleveraging by institutions continues having an additional negative effect on the immediate money supply. Foreign bond rating agencies downgrade Treasury Bills, but the US rating agencies stand firm for fear of retaliation.  This creates a crisis of confidence in all US-rated paper.  There is a swift shift away from dollars as a reserve currency overseas.  A severe and also inflationary recession starts January-February 2008.

The federal government will have blown the foreign creditors’ wads on the first stage bailout. But the more important FDIC bailout for commercial banks will become strained as nervous customers yank money from their longer-term accounts, just as unemployed depositers quit paying on their various loans. Instead of a sharp chastening lesson for Wall Street sorted out reasonably quickly in bankruptcy, the government will find that this bailout has strained its own ability to meet ex ante obligations to ordinary commercial banks. The banks who shifted their mortgage debt off the books to Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and other investors will now find the government’s bailouts of third-party holders of ABS and MBS left less money and weaker government credit available to fund the FDIC during the second-stage of the crisis (i.e., more WaMu-type failures and fire-sales).  Since money in checking accounts and saving accounts being wiped out is totally unacceptable politically,  the government begins monetizing the debt in short order.

I hope I’m wrong.  Bonus question below.

Which recessions since the Great Depression have been inflationary?

Answer: Every single one of them.

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