I don't envy Ben Bernanke his job. He probably affects more people than the president in bigger ways than the Pope while getting more attention than the Queen. Talk about high stress. Given the swamp he's faced, I think he's done as good a job as anyone could at preventing a crisis from becoming a calamity.
But when it comes to QE2, Bernanke's recent plan to buy $600 billion worth of Treasuries, this quote of his from an interview on 60 Minutes earlier this week is off base:
We're not printing money. The amount of currency in circulation is not changing. The money supply is not changing in any significant way. What we're doing is lowering interest rates by buying Treasury securities. And by lowering interest rates, we hope to stimulate the economy to grow faster.
Encouraging words. Just one problem. None of it's true.
First, the money supply is indeed changing, and at a fairly good clip:
Source: St. Louis Fed, author's calculations.
M1, which includes physical currency, traveler's checks, and checking deposits, is currently growing at more than 7% per year. We can quibble over whether that's "significant," but with the economy growing at around 2.5%, it's hard to say it isn't. M2, a broader money supply that includes savings accounts, has grown at a 6.5% annual rate since April.
Now, about the claim that QE2 is lowering interest rates. Here's an update to a chart I made a few weeks ago:
Source: Yahoo! Finance, author's calculations. YOY = year over year.
Interest rates are low, with 10-year yields actually lower than the dividend yields on ConocoPhillips
But if the Fed is lowering interest rates with QE2, inquiring minds might want to know why they've gone straight up since the plan was launched.
There might be a couple of reasons. The economy could be recovering, which is pushing investors out of low-yielding Treasuries. But if that's the case, why the need to spend another $600 billion chasing investors away from what they're already running from on their own? Rates also could be rising over fears that QE2 will cause runaway inflation, derailing the program's goals if only through market psychology. My guess is it's a combination of both.
What do you think? Let your fellow Fools know using the comments box below.
Fool contributor Morgan Housel doesn't own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article. Waste Management is a Motley Fool Inside Value recommendation. Kimberly-Clark and Waste Management are Motley Fool Income Investor recommendations. Motley Fool Options has recommended a written covered straddle position on Waste Management. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.