by James Howard Kunstler
“Federal Reserve officials are closer to winding down their controversial $85 billion-a-month bond-purchase program, possibly as early as December, in the wake of Friday’s encouraging jobs report.”
That from the much-deservedly maligned John Hilsenrath, widely regarded to be the Federal Reserve’s ventrioloquist dummy over at the Wall Street Journal, as in, from God’s mouth to the jittery multitudes. Of course the jobs number was just another highly seasoned and over-leavened cupcake from the Bureau of Labor Statistic’s magic hedonic oven, so you can be sure that the predicate of that statement is… how to put it delicately… the latest arrant lie with hypothetical icing on top.
Everybody knows that the Federal Reserve’s money-pumping operations have become a replacement for what used to be an economy. Therefore, no more money pumping = no more so-called economy. It’s that simple. But it doesn’t mean that the Federal Reserve won’t make a gesture and I wouldn’t be surprised if they try it during the season that Santa Claus hovers over the national consciousness — or what little of that remains when you subtract the methedrine, the Kanye downloads, the fear of an $11,000 bill for an emergency room visit requiring three stitches, and all the other epic distractions of our time.
The next meeting of the Fed’s Open Market Committee (FOMC), where such things as taper-or-not are considered, is Dec. 17. The Fed has to make some kind of gesture to retain any credibility, so I suspect they’ll go for a symbolic shaving of five or ten billion a month off the current official bond-buying operation number of $85 billion a month (or $1.2 trillion a year). If they don’t do it, no one will ever believe them again. I call it the “head-fake” taper, because it is essentially a false move.
The catch is that the Fed has more than one back door for vacuuming up all sorts of other miscellaneous financial trash paper securitized by promises already broken, moldy sheet-rock housing, college loans defaulted on, car payments that stopped arriving eighteen months ago, credit cards maxed to oblivion, sovereign foreign economies visibly whirling down the drain, and untold casino bet derivative hedges. Loose talk has it that the Fed is buying up way more dodgy debt than the official number of $85 billion a month. And why not? They bailed out way more than the $700 billion official TARP figure back in 2009 — everything from insolvent European banks to Floridian motels on the REO junk-pile — so nobody should take any particular taper number seriously. They’ll just backfill as necessary.
But even in a world of seemingly no consequence, things happen. One pretty sure thing is rising interest rates, especially when, at the same time as a head-fake taper, foreigners send a torrent of US Treasury paper back to the redemption window. This paper is what other nations, especially in Asia, have been trading to hose up hard assets, including gold and real estate, around the world, and the traders of last resort — the chumps who took US T bonds for boatloads of copper ore or cocoa pods — now have nowhere else to go. China alone announced very loudly last month that US Treasury debt paper was giving them a migraine and they were done buying anymore of it. Japan is in a financial psychotic delirium scarfing up its own debt paper to infinity. Who’s left out there? Burkina Faso and the Kyrgystan Cobblers’ Union Pension Fund? The interest rate on the US 10-year bond is close to bumping up on the ominous 3.0 percent level again. Apart from the effect on car and house loans, readers have pointed out to dim-little-me that the real action will be around the interest rate swaps. Last time this happened, in late summer, the too-big-to-fail banks wobbled from their losses on these bets, providing a glimpse into the aperture of a black hole compressive deflation where cascading chains of unmet promises blow financial systems past the event horizon of universal default and paralysis where money stops moving anywhere and people must seriously reevaluate what money actually is.
I think we’ll see them try the head-fake taper. They must. It will be backstopped by and saturated in statistical lying, and everyone will have trouble parsing the probable effect because the chronic dishonesty loose in this land will have deformed and impaired all metrics of true value. At the heart of whatever remains of this economy is fire, and the officers of the Federal Reserve are playing with it. Pretty soon, we’ll get the un-taper, the final surrender to the crack-up boom that awaits before the western world has to go medieval.
New Feature this week at kunstler.com: Jim’s Garden Report, 2013.