Harvard Professor Martin Feldstein sees more danger in QE than good. Specifically, he says the Fed is merely rehashing the old Greenspan asset bubble theory:
“Under the label of QE, the Fed will buy long-term government bonds, perhaps one trillion dollars or more, adding an equal amount of cash to the economy and to banks’ excess reserves. Expectation of this has lowered long-term interest rates, depressed the dollar’s international value, bid up the price of commodities and farm land and raised share prices.
Like all bubbles, these exaggerated increases can rapidly reverse when interest rates return to normal levels. The greatest danger will then be to leveraged investors, including individuals who bought these assets with borrowed money and banks that hold long-term securities. These risks should be clear after the recent crisis driven by the bursting of asset price bubbles. Although the specific asset prices that are now rising are different from last time, the possibility of damaging declines when bubbles burst is worryingly similar.”
Perhaps more importantly, however, he says the real world effects of QE will be limited and therefore will be unlikely to justify any portfolio rebalancing:
“Mr Bernanke’s argument for QE is based on the “portfolio balance” theory which stresses that, when the Fed buys bonds, investors increase their demand for other assets, particularly equities, raising their price and increasing household wealth and spending. Equity prices have already risen by 10 per cent since Mr Bernanke discussed this approach. But how much further will equity prices rise and what will that do to GDP?
Neither theory nor past experience can answer the first question. Much of the share price increase induced by QE may already have occurred based on expectations. An optimistic guess would be another 10 per cent. Since households have about $7,000bn in equities, that would imply a wealth gain of $700bn, raising consumer spending by about one-quarter of one per cent of GDP, a welcome but trivially small effect on incomes and employment.
The other ways in which QE would raise GDP are also small. A 20-basis-point reduction in mortgage rates would have little effect on homebuying at a time when house prices are again falling. The increase in banks’ liquidity would do nothing since banks already have massive excess reserves. Big corporations are sitting on vast amounts of cash. Small businesses that are not spending because they cannot get credit will not be helped, because the banks on which they depend have a shortage of capital.”
Ben Bernanke appears to be in increasingly lonely company in believing that QE2 will have any real impact.
Mr. Roche is the Founder and Chief Investment Officer of Discipline Funds.Discipline Funds is a low fee financial advisory firm with a focus on helping people be more disciplined with their finances.
He is also the author of Pragmatic Capitalism: What Every Investor Needs to Understand About Money and Finance, Understanding the Modern Monetary System and Understanding Modern Portfolio Construction.