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Since the FOMC meeting, there has been a noticeable silence over the Fed’s monetary policy following QE2. But there is some evidence that the funding of government debt at low interest rates will shift to the repo market, rather than a new round of quantitative easing.
The silence on this subject may be partly explained by the monetary focus shifting to Europe. However, it is likely that the Fed has no intention of introducing QE3, given that the expansion of narrow money so far has led only to a degree of price inflation, without much benefit to asset prices. And with the ECB still reluctant to print euros, QE3 would probably collapse the dollar/euro rate and propel gold considerably higher, putting unwelcome strains on the financial system. The Fed also finds itself having dramatically expanded the monetary base for little economic benefit: against all its expectations, the economy is sliding into recession again. Perhaps it is a case of all the people being no longer fooled all of the time with respect to what QE actually is. No, another approach is called for.
To the Keynesian mind the obvious alternative must be to expand bank credit, particularly when there is an accumulation of non-borrowed reserves sitting on the Fed’s balance sheet. The NBRs represent the excess capital owned by the commercial banks, which have not been drawn down for use as the capital base for the expansion of bank credit. They currently stand at about $1.76 trillion while in normal circumstances NBRs would be no more than a few tens of billions. High levels of NBRs reflect the reluctance of banks to lend and bankable borrowers to borrow: they are symptomatic of an economy that refuses to expand.
It is against this background that Ben Bernanke announced at the recent post-FOMC meeting press conference that interest rates would be held at current levels (close to zero) for the next two years. This could be the basis for shifting the funding of government debt from printing raw money to expanding bank credit. The public do not understand the inflationary implications of expanding bank credit as easily as they do that of printing money: switching to bank credit as a funding route for government debt allows the Fed to fool all of us a while longer.