Back in October the economic buzzwords had become “money printing” and “debt monetization”. Of course, at the time, the Fed was initiating their policy of QE2 and you’d have been hard pressed to find someone in this country (and around the world for that matter) who wasn’t entirely convinced that the USA was about to send the dollar into some sort of death spiral. QE2 was about to set off a round of inflation that would make Zimbabwe look like a cakewalk. And then something odd happened – the dollar rallied as QE2 set sail and hasn’t looked back since.
Just days before the dollar rally started I said the market was excessively confident in the Fed’s ability to create inflation and misinterpreting the impacts of QE2:
“If my theories prove correct it is likely that the dollar is well oversold and equities have become overextended on false hopes of a Fed driven economic recovery. This means the market is excessively concerned about inflation and we are likely to move closer towards our economic reality of disinflation with a higher risk of deflation than high inflation. If this is correct it means there is a fairly sizable air pocket beneath risk assets currently. Warren Buffett once said it is better to be greedy when others are fearful and fearful when others are greedy. I am currently fearful.”
Since then we’ve seen a 7%+ move in the trade weighted dollar and the smallest 12 month increase in the history of the CPI report. In other words, inflation remains non-existent. For the minority who understood how QE was actually going to impact the economy this was an obvious inefficiency at work (yes Eugene Fama, you are still wrong and this was real-time evidence of it). QE2 wasn’t inflationary and it never was going to be inflationary because it merely alters the term structure of outstanding government debt and nothing more. It is not money printing.
This was just one more opportunity for the fear mongering hyperinflationists to latch onto something. Even as Ben Bernanke himself explained that he was not printing money we continued to see aspiring Presidential candidates, talking heads and even bunny rabbits explain to millions how the Fed was destroying the value of the dollars in our pockets. This was not only irresponsible, but entirely wrong. QE2 is not inflationary in the least bit. It does not help the US government spend in the future. It will not cause a dollar crash. It’s just an asset swap. It’s an unusual form of the standard monetary operations that the Federal Reserve always performs. But monetary policy during a balance sheet recession becomes a blunt instrument. QE2 is perhaps the most misunderstood and irrelevant policy the Fed has ever embarked upon. Or as I prefer to call it – the greatest monetary non-event.