Let’s be clear about what Bernanke is saying: “[A ‘deferred asset’] is an asset in the sense that it embodies a future economic benefit [to the Fed] that will be realized as a reduction of future cash outflows [to the public].
In effect, to the extent that the Fed experiences losses because it overpaid for Treasury securities that it bought from primary dealers (comprising the too-big-to-fail banks and Wall Street investment firms), the U.S. public will pay for those losses without any need for Congressional legislation. This doesn’t mean that the Fed will refrain from continued quantitative easing, but we should all understand how this policy works, and the risks and potential costs that it quietly imposes on the public.
Another assertion that makes me wince is the idea that “since 2009, there has been an 85% correlation between the monetary base and the S&P 500.” This is a distressing use of statistics, because two data series will always have an extremely high correlation if both series capture an uncorrected diagonal move. For example, it is equally true that since 2009, there has been a 94% correlation between beer prices in Iceland and the S&P 500. That’s not to dismiss the enormous effect that Fed policy has had on the markets in recent years, but the implication of an “85% correlation” is that if one increases, the other is sure to increase as well. There is little basis in the data for that belief. The exception is that when stocks are down significantly from their level of 6-months prior, monetary easing is often eventually capable of boosting confidence and reversing recent spikes in risk premiums.”
In case you’re wondering, since 2000 there has been only a 9% correlation between the monetary base and the S&P 500, but a 99% correlation between the monetary base and the price of beer in Iceland. Why? The S&P 500 has experienced massive up and down cycles, while the monetary base and beer prices have both trended higher over time.
5% nominal growth would likely make it inappropriate to hold short-term interest rates below 2% for another 14 years. So either the Fed will reverse its present course, or we will experience unacceptable inflation, or we will experience persistently weak growth like Japan has experienced since 1999, when it decided to take Bernanke’s advice to pursue quantitative easing. My guess is that we will experience unacceptable inflation, beginning in the back-half of this decade.