Janet Yellen and her Federal Reserve board of augurers might as well have spilled a bucket of goat entrails down the steps of the mysterious Eccles Building as they parsed, sliced, and diced the ramifications in altering their prior declaration of “a considerable period” (that is, before raising interest rates), vis-à-vis the simpler new imperative, “patience,” with its moral overburden of public censure aimed at those too eager for clarity — that is to say, the assurance that the Fed will not pull the plug on their life-support drip of funny money for the racketeering operation that banking has become.
The vapid pronouncement of “patience” provoked delirium in the markets, with record advances to new oxygen-thin heights. Behind all this ceremonial hugger-mugger lurks the dark suspicion that the Federal Reserve has no idea what’s actually going on, and no idea what it’s doing. And in the absence of any such ideas, Ms. Yellen and her collegial eminences have engineered a very elaborate rationale for doing nothing.
The truth is, they have already done enough. They have succeeded via their dial-tweaking interventions in destroying the agency of markets so that nobody can tell the difference anymore between prices and wishes. Coincidentally, it is that most wishful time of the year, especially among the professional money managers polishing their clients’ portfolios as the carols are sung and the champagne corks pop. Ms. Yellen should have put on a Santa Claus suit when she ventured out to meet the media last week.
Not even very far in the background, there is wreckage everywhere as events spin out of the pretense of control. Surely something is up in the Mordor of derivatives, that unregulated shadowland of counterparty subterfuge where promises are made with no possibility or intention of ever being kept. You can’t have currencies crashing in more than a handful of significant countries, and interest rates ululating, without a lot of slippage among the swaps. My guess is that a lot of things have busted wide open there, and we just don’t know about it yet, like fissures working deep below the surface around a caldera.
This Federal Reserve is running on the final fumes of its credibility. Counsel “patience” as it might, other institutions and the people running them may run out of patience with it and start running for cover. When currencies catch fire, even a run on the bank becomes an exercise in futility. The rot is spreading from the margins to the center. In a world of oxidizing paper obligations, the paper dollar is hardly a fortress but more like a stack of empty foil-wrapped boxes displayed in the concourse of a shopping mall scheduled for closure as soon as the holiday is concluded. Maybe some wise-ass kid will just torch it. The security guard is still awaiting his previous paycheck and is out drinking by the dumpster.
It will be at least a couple of months before the Fed dares to start “printing” again and a lot can happen before it does. If and when it does resume QE — and it will be sorely tempted — all its credibility will finally be lost. What an opportunity for another country, say a country with an already foundering currency, to dare introduce money partially backed by gold. Could happen. That hypothetical nation may be one with, say, substantial oil reserves, something that even an economically depressed global industrial economy desperately needs. That hypothetical nation may be one that is very weary of being jerked around by the USA, with our augerers and vizeers, and haircuts-in-search-of-brains.
Merry Christmas everyone and, this dwindling year, be especially careful what you wish for.