Dear Chairman Bernanke,
In your prepared remarks before financial committees of the House and Senate on July 17-18, referring to your Quantitative Easing (QE) programs, you stated "WALL STREET HASN'T BENEFITED MORE THAN MAIN STREET" and that the Fed is "VERY FOCUSED' ON MAIN STREET." Mr. Chairman, did you really intend to say that?
According to an FDIC release, via Reuters, in 2012, U.S. banks recorded the highest profits since 2006…and the second highest ever, as described here. Moreover, bank first quarter, 2013 earnings were the highest of any quarter on record, according to USA Today. Finally, 2nd quarter, 2013, financial sector earnings reported so far, are up 27% year-over-year, indicating that the record trend continues (from FactSet).
Your program of QE purchases of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities has swollen the Fed's balance sheet to more than $3.5 Trillion. More than $2 Trillion of the monies thus created out of thin air to pay dealer banks for those securities are still sitting, as excess reserves (an unprecedented high), on the Fed's books for accounts of domestic banks and increasingly, foreign (read European) banks. And you're paying interest on those excess reserves to your owner banks (I'm not using that term facetiously; your member banks do own the Federal Reserve, you know). Cynics might even say that you're taking non-marked-to-market mortgage backed securities off the hands of the banks at par (inflated) values, a boon to their solvency! And while you're theoretically responsible to Congress, that body cannot review, nor even audit after-the-fact, your ultra-important open-market operations, which are carried out in complete secrecy!
Back to excess reserves, our economic model calls for those monies being lent to companies to expand and create jobs, but it's my understanding that banks cannot find qualified borrowers; those that are qualified are not borrowing and investing because of regulatory constraints and overall uncertainty about the future.
So, one could conclude that throughout the 4+ year so-called "recovery," you have been "pushing on a string" in attempting to re-ignite the economy, and yet you continue to purchase $85 Billion in securities each month, most of which likely will go into excess reserves, adding further to their solvency…was that your QE intent? I know that you were an ardent student of the Great Depression and that your fear of a similar deflationary spiral motivated you to back fiscal stimulus in 2008 and TARP in '08-09, as well as to pursue your QE1 program. Those efforts did indeed stave off the deflation towards which our economy was rapidly heading, and I applaud you for that. But QE was not meaningfully addressing an obviously structural, not cyclical, unemployment problem, and I think you knew that in 2010. You even admitted failure by QE to address unemployment in your prepared remarks referenced above, "…the jobs situation is far from satisfactory, as the unemployment rate remains well above its longer-run normal level, and rates of underemployment and long-term unemployment are still much too high" (from Business Insider). So, the cynic in me wants to ask, actually scream, "Why on earth QE2 in late 2010 and, especially, why QE3 and QE3+in 2012?"
Finally, there is the "wealth effect" mandate that, many would argue, you presumptively embraced as a self-proclaimed "third mandate" of the Fed. Your purported theory behind the wealth effect was to increase Americans' net worth, making us feel better about ourselves, prompting us to spend more, and thereby producing economic growth (and how is that working out, Mr. Chairman?). The result has been an anemic, and diminishing, "recovery"…but also a meteoric rise in the stock market (up more than 150% from the March, 2009 low), and dramatically increased corporate profits, both, one would conclude, much more of a benefit to "Wall Street" than "Main Street" America. In my opinion, the stock market rise has benefited mainly crony capitalists (those gaining dishonestly via their connections to Wall Street and Washington), Wall Street executives (we would not want their bonuses negatively affected, would we?), and honest wealthy individuals who can risk more of their assets in the stock market.
Your low interest rate policies have made it less expensive for corporations to borrow in order to buy back shares, improving their P/E ratios, and corporations have grown their profits via productivity gains (laying off workers and converting from full-time employees to part-time), more than enough to offset tepid sales growth due to weak consumer spending (70% of GDP) because of continuing high unemployment and declining wages. The result has been record corporate profits through 2012, with profit margins at an all-time high - 70% above the historical mean.
Can there be any doubt, therefore, that "Wall Street" America has greatly benefited from the Fed's policies, but how about "Main Street," or middle-class America? There is little evidence that the wealth effect strategy has helped to create jobs, which is of course what "Main Street" America needs! Nor has it, to follow on, added to Main Street Americans' wealth.
The "average" net worth of Americans has indeed recovered to pre-2007 levels (a sizable majority of Americans would love to be average in this respect!), as touted by you and our government, but average wealth is misleading, don't you think, Mr. Chairman? If Warren Buffet moved to a community of 40 households, the average net worth of the community would be in the $Billions, but the median net worth (50% higher; 50% lower, or middle-class America) will have changed very little. Similarly, that is what has happened to middle-class America since the Great Recession, as the median American net worth continues to decline. According to latest information from the U.S. Census Bureau, the median American household net worth in 2011 was $68,828, down a whopping 35% from the 2005 peak of $106,585! Do you have information indicating that this trend has reversed itself since 2011via your wealth effect? I rather doubt it.
In concluding, Mr. Chairman, please tell us that your referenced comment before the committees was a slip of the tongue…or a slip of the pen; they were prepared remarks, you know…and that you were not intentionally telling an untruth to cover up the true objective of your high stakes economic gamble - underpinning the solvency of your owner banks and their European counterparts.
Douglas D Anderson, Concerned American -Jacksonville, FL
Disclosure: I have no positions in any stocks mentioned, and no plans to initiate any positions within the next 72 hours.