Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Calm Before The Storm

The Calm Before The Storm

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An eerie calm has descended upon world financial markets as they await perhaps the two most important financial events of the year this week. On Tuesday, investors will be eagerly awaiting the results of one of the most anticipated midterm elections in U.S. history. On Wednesday, the Federal Reserve is expected to end months of speculation by formally announcing the details of a new round of quantitative easing. If either the election or the meeting of the Federal Reserve open market committee delivers a highly unexpected result, it could have a dramatic impact on world financial markets. In fact, many are looking at this week as a potential turning point for the U.S. economy. The decisions that are made or not made this week could set us down a road from which the U.S. economy may never recover.

At this point, it looks like the Republicans will take control of the U.S. House of Representatives and will pick up a number of U.S. Senate seats as well.

There are many in the financial world who already consider Barack Obama to be the most "anti-business" president in U.S. history, so a defeat for the Democrats on Tuesday would be greatly welcomed by many on Wall Street. Barack Obama's decline in popularity since he was elected has been absolutely stunning. According to Gallup, Barack Obama had an average approval rating of just 44.7% during the seventh quarter of his presidency, which was a brand new low. In fact, Obama's average approval rating has fallen during every single quarter since he took office. Things have gotten so bad for Obama that one new poll has found that 47% of Democrats now think that Barack Obama should be challenged for the 2012 Democratic presidential nomination.

However, if the Democrats were able to do surprisingly well on Tuesday, it would not only shock the political pundits, but it would also likely put world financial markets in a very bad mood.

If the Republicans do very well on Tuesday, it will likely mean that there will be no more extensions for those receiving long-term unemployment benefits. Some state governments are already anticipating this and are making preparations. For example, armed security guards are now being posted at all 36 full-service unemployment offices in the state of Indiana. It is estimated that approximately 2 million Americans will lose their unemployment insurance benefits during this upcoming holiday season if Congress does not authorize another emergency extension of benefits by the end of November. If the Republicans do very well on Tuesday, it would make it much more likely that the extension will not happen.

But if millions of unemployed Americans suddenly find themselves without any unemployment checks, that is only going to cause the anger and frustration regarding this economy to grow.

Either way, the unfortunate truth is that this election is not going to change much.

Over the past five elections, incumbents have been re-elected to the U.S. House of Representatives at an average rate of 96 percent.

This time will be a little different of course, but not that much different. The sad truth is that we are still likely to see about 80 percent of the exact same faces going back to the U.S. Congress for the next session.

However, even if the American people could somehow vote out every single member of Congress, it would still not do much to fundamentally change our economic situation because the U.S. Congress does not run the economy and neither does the President.

Of course both of those institutions can influence the U.S. economy, but it is actually the Federal Reserve that runs the economy.

The Federal Reserve controls the money supply. The Federal Reserve controls our interest rates. If the U.S. government wants more money it has to go get it from the Federal Reserve. It is the Federal Reserve that is tasked with the mandate of keeping unemployment low while also keeping inflation at a "reasonable" level.

But these days, Federal Reserve officials don't really seem to be that concerned about the dangers of inflation. In fact, several top Federal Reserve officials have come out in recent weeks and have made public statements not only advocating more quantitative easing, but also suggesting that inflation is not a danger because it is actually "too low" right now.

In fact, there have been some rumblings that many officials at the Fed would actually welcome more inflation because they think that it would somehow stimulate the economy. In fact, a Federal Reserve paper that was released in September actually floated the idea that a spike in oil prices would be quite good for the U.S. economy.

And these are the people running our economy?

Are we all caught in an episode of The Twilight Zone?

Well, as far as rising oil prices are concerned, the Fed will almost surely get its wish. As I have written about previously, the price of oil is almost certainly heading to 100 dollars a barrel.

But if the price of oil shoots up, isn't that going to cause significant inflationary pressure on the prices of thousands of other goods and services?

Of course.

Unfortunately, very few of our leaders seem too concerned about inflation or about protecting the value of the U.S. dollar these days.

In fact, now even the IMF is publicly proclaiming that the U.S. dollar is "overvalued".

What a mess.

But there is another aspect of a new round of "quantitative easing" that the American people really wouldn't like if they could actually figure out what is going on.

You see, the truth is that "quantitative easing" is not only just a way to stimulate the economy, it is also a way to give backdoor bailouts to the big banks without having to go through the U.S. Congress.

In a previous article, I described how this works....

1) The big U.S. banks have massive quantities of junk mortgage-backed securities that are worth little to nothing that they desperately want to get rid of.

2) They convince the Federal Reserve (which the big banks are part-owners of) to buy up these "toxic assets" at significantly above market price.

3) The Federal Reserve creates massive amounts of money out of thin air to buy up all of these troubled assets. The public is told that all of this "quantitative easing" is necessary to stimulate the U.S. economy.

4) The big banks are re-capitalized and have gotten massive amounts of bad mortgage securities off their hands, the Federal Reserve has found a way to pump hundreds of billions (if not trillions) of dollars into the economy, and most of the American people are none the wiser.

Now how do you think the American people would feel about "quantitative easing" if they really understood all this?

But unfortunately, most Americans will be watching the election results on Tuesday night without having even a basic understanding of how our economy is really run.

Already, there are a ton of signs that the U.S. economy is heading in a very bad direction, and dumping a handful of Congress critters out of office might feel good, but it isn't going to do much to really change our economic problems.

The American people desperately need to be educated about how our financial system really works. But unfortunately, most Americans will likely not wake up until the whole house of cards comes crashing down.

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