When the world’s major central bankers get together, as they did at the Fed conference in Washington this weekend, ironies abound. Off to the side, Turkey had just floated a plan to get its people to turn in their physical gold in exchange for “certificates,” a first if still voluntary step in what may become a process of gold confiscation. In the background: the Fed, which had promised to keep interest rates at record lows through 2014, come hell or high water, after having purchased $2.3 trillion in bonds. In the foreground: the money printers of Japan and Europe.
Republicans are trying to tar President Obama with gas prices that are creeping up on $4 a gallon and are shooting for an all-time high. The strategy is working. Obama’s approval rating on handling gas prices has plunged. In San Francisco, gas is already $4.50. Yet across the Bay are five oil refineries that together are the largest exporters of petroleum products in the nation.
Apparently, Charles Plosser, president of the Philadelphia Fed, failed to check with his handlers when he said that the Fed might have to raise interest rates later this year—from practically zero to almost zero, I guess—though just last Thursday, the Fed had announced the extension of its zero-interest-rate policy through late 2014. The umpteenth extension since 2009. Now, the economy is addicted to free money, and the damage is severe.
After they were downgraded in early August, US government bonds gained upward momentum and yields fell. Japan, which has danced the downgrade tango for years, is contemplating the next step, from AA- to A+, yet 10-year Japanese Government Bonds are yielding below 1%. Downgrades of sovereign bonds of developed countries make good headlines, but the impact on bond markets has been nil. With one exception: the Eurozone.
The Supercommittee did what it was expected to do. They dug in their heels. Why? They didn’t have to make painful choices. Unlike Greece, the US has a miraculous money machine that takes care of the deficits. The emasculated credit markets watch nervously.
In his “enough’s-enough” speech in Hawaii, Obama castigated China for its currency peg, a perennial complaint. Congress too regularly hyperventilates about the yuan being “artificially undervalued.” If China just allowed the yuan to trade freely, they say, it would solve the U.S. economic quagmire. Cheap political posturing—and full of bitter ironies.
In what may be a precursor of a monumental shift, Toyota and Honda are planning to export U.S.-made vehicles to South Korea. Apparently, it’s now cheaper to produce cars here and ship them halfway across the world than it is to produce them in Japan. But to what banana-republic levels will the dollar and real wages have to sink before U.S. manufacturing is competitive with China?
The members of the congressional panel on deficit reduction are struggling to come up with something that will—I mean, let’s be realistic—get them reelected and fill their campaign funds. Even if they come up with a plan that will reduce the gargantuan budget deficits, Congress won’t follow through. Because it doesn’t have to, thanks to the Fed.
Consumer confidence indices have collapsed to levels not seen in years or even decades. Yet the toughest creature out there that no one has yet been able to beat down struck again. Consumer spending increased at an annual rate of 2.4% during the third quarter, though the mood has become outright morose since.
The German parliament has a historic opportunity to say no to the bankers: it gets to vote on expanding the European bailout fund to €1 trillion, though it had just been expanded to €440 billion. Since no one has any money, it will be in form of leverage, the very mechanism that has wreaked so much havoc already.
Berlusconi, waiting for money.