Created in 1913 with the enactment of the Federal Reserve Act, the Federal Reserve (the Fed) is the central banking system of the U.S. The Fed functions as the bank of the U.S. government, overseeing the nation’s financial institutions. As the central bank, the Fed safeguards and manages the U.S. economy and its money supply with its economic and monetary policies, which makes it a very powerful global player. Ben Bernanke is the current chairman of the Federal Reserve.
The U.S. dollar is still regarded as the reserve currency of the world. The majority of international transactions are settled in U.S. dollars and most central banks around the word hold it in their foreign exchange reserves.
But since the Credit Crisis of 2008, and the multi-trillion-dollar printing program by the Federal Reserve, the supremacy of the U.S. dollar as the “world’s currency” has been challenged.
The BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) have agreed on starting a new development bank that will compete with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank. (Source: Washington Times, August 5, 2014.) Both the IMF and World Bank are “U.S. dollar”-based.
Since the year 2000, the U.S. dollar composed about 56% of all reserves at central banks. But after the Credit Crisis, that percentage started to decline. In 2013, the greenback made up only 32.43% of all foreign exchange reserves at foreign central banks. (Source: International Monetary Fund COFER data, last accessed August 11, 2014.)
Yes, the $3.5 trillion in new money the Federal Reserve has created out of thin air has made other central banks nervous about holding U.S. dollars in their vaults. After all, if you were a foreign central bank with U.S. dollars as your reserve currency, how good would you feel to know the U.S. just printed more dollars as it needed them without any backing of gold?
But it’s not just the money printing. It’s the massive debt the U.S. government has accumulated…currently at $17.6 trillion and soon to be $20.0 trillion.
In the short-run, the U.S. dollar is still considered a safe … Read More
The burning question that’s facing economists like me today and that will only be answered in the future: did creating $3.0 trillion in new money out of thin air really make things better or worse for America?
My personal view, as expressed in these pages, is that the rich (the big banks and Wall Street) got richer from the “printing press” era, while the average American did not directly benefit from the Fed’s actions.
In fact, in America today, the spread in wealth between the rich and the poor has never been so great. As for the middle class, they are becoming extinct.
The “Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households in 2013,” recently published by the Federal Reserve, says 34% of Americans feel they are worse off today than they were five years ago, and 42% said they are holding back on the purchase of major or expensive items. (Source: Federal Reserve, August 7, 2014.)
But the data gets worse…
Of those Americans who had savings prior to the 2008 recession, 57% of them say they have used up some or all of their savings in order to combat the after-effects of the Great Recession.
Only 48% of Americans said that they would be able to cover a “hypothetical emergency expense” that costs $400.00 without selling something or borrowing money. Simply put, about half of Americans have less than $400.00 in emergency funds!
Meanwhile, 31% of Americans say they do not have any retirement savings or pension. Of those who are between the ages of 55 and 64, 24% of them expect to work as long as possible, … Read More
The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) surprised even the most optimistic of economists when it reported the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of four percent in the second quarter of 2014.
On the surface, the number—four percent growth—sounds great. But how serious should we take that gross domestic product (GDP) figure?
Firstly, I’d like to start by pointing out that the BEA often revises its GDP numbers downward. We saw this happen in the first quarter. First, we saw the BEA say the U.S. economy grew by 0.1% in the first quarter, then after a couple of revisions, they said the economy actually contracted 2.9% in the quarter.
I obviously expect the BEA to lower its initial second-quarter GDP numbers again.
But here’s what really worries me…
If the GDP data suggests the U.S. economy is growing, why are investors pricing in an economic slowdown?
The chart below is of the 10-year U.S. Treasury, the so-called safe haven. Back in 2007 to 2009, investors ran to U.S. Treasuries as a safe haven. As the U.S. economy improved, the yields on the 10-year U.S. Treasury started to rise as interest rates rose with general optimism towards the economy.
Chart courtesy of www.StockCharts.com
But since the beginning of this year, yields on the 10-year U.S. notes have declined 18%. This is despite the fact the biggest buyer of these bonds, the Federal Reserve, has stepped away from buying these Treasuries as its quantitative easing program comes to an end.
At the same time, we have the stock market finally starting to give in. So if the stock market is a … Read More
Remember Alan Greenspan? He was the chairman of the Federal Reserve from 1987 to 2006. Several media sources, including this one, blamed the sub-prime mortgage fiasco that led to the Credit Crisis of 2008 on the easy money policies under the leadership of Greenspan.
But the Credit Crisis aside, it is ironic but true that Greenspan has had a knack for calling stock market bubbles correctly.
For example, in December of 1996, while chairman of the Federal Reserve, Greenspan grew wary about the stock market. In a now famous speech called the “Challenge of Central Banking in a Democratic Society,” along with other observations on the value of stocks, Greenspan essentially argued that the rise in the stock market at that time wasn’t reflective of the poor economic conditions that prevailed.
Within two years of that speech, the stock market started to decline and stocks did not recover until 2006.
In an interview with Bloomberg a few days ago, Greenspan said, “the stock market has recovered so sharply for so long, you have to assume somewhere along the line we will get a significant correction.” (Source: “Greenspan Says Stocks to See ‘Significant Correction,’” Bloomberg, July 30, 2014.)
In the interview, Greenspan says long-term capital isn’t growing and as a result, productivity and the economic recovery will be in jeopardy.
Greenspan is out of the Federal Reserve. But the leader of the Fed today, Janet Yellen, also has reservations about the value of certain stocks. As I wrote on July 16, Yellen had been quoted saying tech stocks were priced “high relative to historical norms.” (See “How Many Warnings Can … Read More
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