It's amazing, given the attention the Tea Party allegedly is paying to government waste and government spending, that there hasn't been more controversy about the now-seemingly-inevitable arrival of "QE2" – a second massive round of money-printing cooked up by the Fed to prop up both the government and certain sectors of the economy. A more overtly anticapitalist and oligarchical pattern of behavior than the Fed's "Quantitative Easing" program could not possibly be imagined, but the country is strangely silent on the issue.
What is "QE"? The first round of "quantitative easing" was a program announced by Ben Bernanke last March in response to the financial crisis, ending in March of this year. In what will soon be known as "QE1"(i.e. once QE2 is announced), Bernanke printed over a trillion dollars out of thin air, then used that money to buy, among other things, mortgage-backed securities (MBS) and Treasury Bonds. In other words, the government was printing money to a) lend to itself and b) prop up the housing market, with Wall Street stepping in to take a big cut.
That was QE1. There has long been speculation that another trillion-plus money-printing program called QE2 is coming, but only recently have there been concrete hints from the Fed along those lines. Among other things, New York Fed Vice President Brian Sack just this week squeaked out a comment about how, "In terms of the benefits, balance-sheet expansion appears to push financial conditions in the right direction." Translating into English, "balance-sheet expansion" means the Fed adding to its balance sheet, i.e. printing money to buy stuff – i.e. QE2.
Thanks to that and other hints, most everyone now expects the Fed to announce a new QE program in November. The big banks have now openly begun to predict this, with JP Morgan Chase among others raising its odds of the Fed buying mortgages in the next 6 months from 10% to 50%. Another effect we're seeing is that mortgage originators are hiring again, in anticipation of being able to fork out QE-funded mortgages.
QE is difficult to understand and the average person could listen to a Fed official talk about it for two hours right to his face and not understand even the basic gist of his speech. The ostensible justification for QE is to use a kind of financial shock-and-awe approach to jump-starting the economy, but its effects for ordinary people are hard to calculate. Theoretically the entire country has some sort of stake in this program, as (among other things) U the Homeowner may see your home value stay stable or fall less than it would have thanks to this artificial stimulus. You also may be able to buy a house when you wouldn't before, thanks to declining mortgage rates.
And jobs, I suppose, may theoretically be created by all this dollar meth being injected into the financial bloodstream – although the inflationary effect of printing trillions upon trillions of new dollars would probably wipe out the value of the money you make at that job. When it comes to calculating what QE actually does for you, or how much it harms you, that question is just very hard to answer.
But one thing we know for sure is that big banks and Wall Street speculators are real, immediate beneficiaries of the program, as they suddenly have trillions of printed dollars flowing through the financial system, with endless ways to profit on the new chips entering the casino.
And by an amazing coincidence, many of the biggest players in the financial services industry have a habit of buying up MBS or Treasuries just before these magical money-printing programs of the Fed send their respective values soaring. If you own a big fund, for instance, and you know that the Fed is about to buy a trillion dollars of mortgage-backed-securities through a new Quantitative Easing program, buying a buttload of MBS a few weeks early is a pretty easy way to make a risk-free fortune. One of the worst-kept secrets on Wall Street is that the big bankers and fund managers get signals about the Fed's intentions about things like QE well before they are announced to the rest of us losers in the public.
A hilarious example of this cozy insiderism popped up just a few weeks ago, when PIMCO bond fund chief Bill Gross let it slip on a live CNBC interview that he was getting inside info from the Fed. The interview is with former Goldman analyst and (now) CNBC anchor Erin Burnett, as well as my slimeball former colleague from the Moscow Times and (now) CNBC bobblehead Steve Liesman, who slobber typically over the bond king in the segment.
Gross at one point says this:
"What is important going into November is the staff forecast for economic growth for the next 12-18 months. Our understanding is that the Fed is about to downgrade their forecast from 3% down to 2%. Which in turn would suggest that unemployment won't be coming down… and so that would be the trigger to my way of thinking for Quantitative Easing in November."
The admission is so untoward that the ex-Goldmanite Burnett immediately races to clean up the problem, saying to Liesman, who is also on the panel, "We don't have that forecast yet, right, Steve?"
At which point the ever-helpful Liesman replies, "We won't get that for 3 weeks, Erin. That's when it comes out with the minutes of this meeting ."
Check out 5:20 of this video (courtesy of Zero Hedge):
There are so many different ways for Wall Street guys to make risk-gazillions off of QE, it's not even funny. When I was researching the "Wall Street Bailout Hustle" story last year, for instance, I learned about one fund that loaded up on MBS before the first QE announcement, then saw their MBS skyrocket in value after QE – at which point the fund sold off a lot of its MBS holdings and bought Treasuries, effectively taking money from the Fed and lending it right back to the government at interest.