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Well, we now know what the true meaning of "Helicopter Ben" is.
Ben Bernanke and the Federal Reserve incited a stock market rally after announcing that they'll buy $300 billion of long-term Treasuries as well as $750 billion more of mortgage-backed securities in an effort to flood the economy with liquidity and keep interest rates low.
I have a few thoughts on this grand adventure.
First, money velocity is practically zero right now. That being the case, the Fed can keep pumping as much cash into the economy as it wants to; it's not going to make much of an impact in terms of staving off the deflationary bugaboo in the short run.
Second, and more importantly, is what impact this will have on long-term yields, and hence mortgage rates. That's really what this is about -- doing everything possible to keep mortgage rates low to help spur demand. Thing is, mortgage rates are already incredibly, and historically, low. By and large, the cost of money isn't what's hampering real estate. A decade of massive oversupply, a consumer wracked with fear over future losses, and a market where prices were exorbitantly high to begin with is the crux of the problem. Bringing interest rates down does indeed help, but it's an artificial help that doesn't let the root problem work itself out. Let's not forget, artificially low interest rates are partially what got us here in the first place. Just sayin'.
Third, I know I'm not the only one wondering how large the Fed's balance sheet can be before it reaches a tipping point of no return. The plan du jour is that all these expansionary projects will be unwound once the economy picks up steam, but there comes a point where the Fed's balance sheet will be so large that unwinding it in a meaningful way -- in a way where time is of the essence -- won't be feasible. To see what I mean, go ask AIG (NYSE: AIG ) or Citigroup (NYSE: C ) how easy it is to unwind a massive balance sheet when the forces of finance aren't working in your favor.
Outside of long-term implications, this is indeed good news for a few wounded members of the economy. Banks like Bank of America (NYSE: BAC ) , Wells Fargo (NYSE: WFC ) , and JPMorgan Chase (NYSE: JPM ) exploded this afternoon, and well they should; with the Fed and Treasury doing everything humanly possible to keep banks' cost of capital at or near zero, banks have a tremendous tailwind in rebuilding their capital positions going forward.
What do you think about these huge moves? Stocks got some much-needed relief on the news, but I'm always drawn back to what long-term implications these programs will have. Care to chime in? Share your thoughts, concerns, and suggestions for ol' Benny B. in the comment section below.
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