HH The Fed's Dangerous Game: A Fourth Round Of Stimulus In A Single Growth Cycle

The longer the signals in capital markets go haywire under the influence of “monetary stimulus,” the bigger is the cumulative economic cost. That is one big reason why this fourth Fed stimulus — in the present already-longest (but lowest-growth) of super-long business cycles — is so dangerous.

True, there is nothing new about the Fed imparting stimulus well into a business cycle expansion with the intention of combating a threat of recession. Think of 1927, 1962, 1967, 1985, 1988, 1995, and 1998.

This time, though, we've seen it four times (2010/11, 2012/13, 2016/17, 2019) in a single cycle. That is a record. Normally, a jump in recorded goods and services inflation, or concerns about rampant speculation, have trumped the inclination to stimulate after one — or at most two — episodes of stimulus.

Also, we should recognize that the length of time during which capital-market signaling remains haywire, is only one of several variables determining the overall economic cost of monetary “stimulus.” But it is a very important one.

Haywire signaling is not just a matter of interest rates being artificially low. Alongside this, there is extensive mis-pricing of risk capital. Some of this is related to the flourishing of speculative hypotheses freed from the normal constraints (operative under sound money) of rational cynicism. Enterprises at the center of such stories enjoy super-favorable conditions for raising capital.

There are also the giant carry trades into high-yielding debt, long-maturity bonds, high-interest currencies, and illiquid assets, driven by some combination of hunger for yield and super-confidence in trend extrapolation. In consequence, premiums for credit risk, currency risk, illiquidity, and term risk, are artificially low. Meanwhile a boom in financial engineering — the camouflaging of leverage to produce high momentum gains — adds to the overall distortion of market signals.

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Brendan Brown is senior fellow (non-resident) Hudson Institute. As an international monetary and financial economist, consultant, and author, his roles have included Head of Economic Research at ...

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