Evaluating the Fed’s QE3: Inequality Getting Worse


From John Mauldin’s Outside the Box:

The Hoisington Quarterly Review and Outlook is one of the cornerstones of my reading on where the economy is headed. Van Hoisington and Lacy Hunt do a masterful job of turning data points into cogent, well-argued themes.

This month they waste no time in dissecting the Fed’s recent move to QE3 and similar efforts in Europe, arriving at the conclusion that “While prices for risk assets have improved, governments have not been able to address underlying debt imbalances. Thus, nothing suggests that these latest actions do anything to change the extreme over-indebtedness of major global economies.”

Their expectation: global recession. The only issue left to sort out, they say, is How deep will the downturn be?

They make the interesting observation that with each injection of liquidity by the Fed, commodity prices have surged: “During QE1 & QE2 wholesale gasoline prices jumped 30% and 37%, respectively, and the Goldman Sachs Commodity Food Index (GSCI-Food) rose 7% and 22%, respectively. From the time the press reported that the Fed was moving toward QE3, both gasoline and the GSCI Food index jumped by 19%, through the end of the 3rd quarter.”

The QE picture gets even muddier. The unintended consequence of the Fed’s actions, say Lacy and Van, has been to actually slow economic activity: “The CPI rose significantly in QE1 and QE2 (Chart 1). These price increases had a devastating effect on worker’s incomes (Chart 2). Wages did not immediately respond to commodity price changes; therefore, there was an approximate 3% decline in real average hourly earnings in both instances. It is true that stock prices also rose along with commodity prices (S&P plus 36% and 24%, respectively, in QE1 and QE2). However, median households hold a small portion of equities, and thus received minimal wealth benefit.[MH note: this is the tragedy of modern capitalism – so few participate.]

They proceed to tear apart the wealth effect that the Fed is banking on to restimulate the economy, drawing on several solid studies. They also make the key point that “When the Fed actions lead to higher food and fuel prices, the shock wave reverberates around the world, with many foreign economies being hit adversely. When prices of basic necessities rise, the greatest burden is on those with the lowest incomes since more of their budget is allocated to the basic necessities such as food and fuel.”

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