Tuesday, March 05, 2013
USA Today: Dow Jones high on Fed steroids
The turnabout is testament to healthy corporate profits and the resilience of America's free enterprise system. And it's a huge relief to workers whose 401(k) plans are tied to equities. But the risky little secret of the rebound is that it is powered in significant part by the easy-money policies of the Federal Reserve, which must one day end. [Emphasis added.]
To combat the Great Recession, the Fed has bought trillions of dollars of mortgage bonds and U.S. Treasuries to juice the housing market and the economy in general.
On balance these purchases — which go by the non-threatening name of "quantitative easing" — have been warranted, given the deep economic problems caused by the financial crisis. But the time is approaching to scale back the bond-buying spree and get ready to unwind some of the Fed's massive portfolio, which now tops $3 trillion. The longer the policy lasts, the more likely it will end unhappily.
The Federal Reserve's purchases have driven interest rates to near zero. This has stimulated the economy but not without cost. Savers, particularly older ones trying to live on income from their investments, are starved for safe options. They've been forced into stocks, which is one reason the market has been acting as if it's on steroids. Further, with borrowing costs low, Congress and the White House have less incentive to rein in the national debt. Rock-bottom interest rates have also distorted markets.