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Quantitative Easing Ahoy!

The commentary below is for the benefit of our readers from opinion makers and writers not associated with Euro Pacific. We do not guarantee the accuracy and completeness of third-party authored content. Opinions expressed are those of the writer, and may or may not reflect those held by Euro Pacific, or its CEO, Peter Schiff.
Axel Merk
August 23, 2010

The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) has decided to reinvest the proceeds from maturing securities acquired through its $1.25 trillion mortgage-backed security (MBS) purchase program. The proceeds won't be invested in short-term, but in long-term Treasuries.

Federal Reserve (Fed) Chairman Bernanke has long argued that the MBS program constituted credit easing, not quantitative easing. Credit easing, the argument goes, ought to support the functioning and liquidity in the housing market. In various speeches, Bernanke has called the chapter on credit easing closed, a sign that the Fed is engaged in an "exit strategy."

We have repeatedly cautioned that merely not buying additional securities is no exit at all, but rather a pause. To be consistent with its public communication, we argued quantitative easing would follow credit easing. Quantitative easing is the purchase of government debt with long maturities. In many ways, quantitative easing is not all that different from credit easing, because of the tight spreads (close relationship) these securities tend to trade in.

The cat is out of the bag now: credit easing is out, there is no exit, and quantitative easing is the name of the game. For now, the size of the Fed's balance sheet is to remain constant; that is, the maturing securities won't be running off, but will be re-invested. It may be worth mentioning that, historically, central banks rarely, if ever, succeed in substantially reducing the size of their balance sheets after periods of expansion. Even when a central bank wins a fight against inflation, we never return to old price levels; policymakers tend to be satisfied by preventing further abnormal increases at an elevated level.

This is in stark contrast with the European Central Bank (ECB), which drained €244 billion ($322) from the markets in the eurozone.

The dollar plunged from its intra-day highs as a result of the announcement. In our opinion, the only thing keeping the dollar from falling further is the confidence that the Fed will do whatever it takes to ensure the primary negative effect of quantitative easing – inflation – will not be a problem. In response, we would like to point out: a) this sounds a lot like a "frog in a boiling pot" theory as the Fed is further boxing itself into a corner; and b) Bernanke may see a weaker dollar as a positive rather than a negative side effect of his policies. In our assessment, Bernanke, unlike his predecessors, considers the US dollar as one of the policy tools at his disposal.

Axel Merk
President and Chief Investment Officer
Merk Investments, Manager of the Merk Mutual Funds

Axel Merk manages the Merk Hard Currency Fund and Merk Asian Currency Fund, no-load mutual funds seeking to protect against a decline in the dollar by investing in baskets of hard and Asian currencies, respectively. He writes a regular newsletter and authored the 2009 book, “Sustainable Wealth.”

This report was prepared by Merk Investments LLC, and reflects the current opinion of the author. It is based upon sources and data believed to be accurate and reliable. Opinions and forward looking statements expressed are subject to change without notice. This information does not constitute a solicitation or an offer to buy or sell any investment security, nor provide investment advice.