A Q&A on QE3

Below is an interesting Q&A by Al Lewis who is a columnist for Dow Jones Newswires in Denver, CO.  This interview below addresses some of the common questions and concerns people are asking now about QE3…

A Q&A on QE3 by Al Lewis, September 15th:

Q: Why did Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke launch a third round of bond buying known as quantitative easing, or QE3, last week?  A: Because the stock market told him to. How else can he keep the Dow Jones Industrial Average above 13000? Companies are warning of slower earnings growth.

Q: How big is QE3?  A: $40 billion a month—indefinitely. This is on top of the $45 billion a month the Fed is already spending on another program called “Operation Twist” through the rest of this year.

Q: Phew, is that all?  A:Hardly. Since 2008, the Fed has dumped more than $2.3 trillion into the economy, artificially levitating the values of stocks and real estate against the ravages of an economic reckoning.

Q: What will the Fed buy with this QE3 money?  A: Mortgage-backed securities. It is betting that the way to fix a deflated housing bubble is to blow another one.

Q: Does the Fed really just print all this money?  A: No. That would take eons. The Fed simply adds zeros to its magic spreadsheet, and violà, money!

Q: Isn’t this a Ponzi scheme?  A: Of course not. A Ponzi scheme is illegal. This is a Bernanke scheme.

Q: Is it working?  A: Every new QE is an admission that the last one didn’t work. Since the first QE in late 2008, America’s economic growth has mostly been described as “anemic.”

Q: So why will QE3 last indefinitely?  A: It spares Mr. Bernanke the humility of announcing QE4, QE5, QE6 ….

Q: Will this finally lower unemployment?  A: You tell me. The Fed has launched QEs and held interest rates close to zero for nearly four years. The unemployment rate has remained above 8%.

Q: So why call it a “recovery”?  A: It’s not as depressing as the term depression. A depression can be defined as a prolonged period of high unemployment.

Q: Why not just call it that?  A: Another theory holds that a depression is impossible as long as Mr. Bernanke can keep creating money.

Q: Won’t this cause inflation?  A: Only if you eat food, burn gasoline, require medical attention, purchase commodities or pay college tuition. Bottled water is $1.29, and air is still free.

Q: Why haven’t QEs worked?  A: It’s a global economy and QEs simply leak out of the bucket. Companies, for instance, may use the cheap money to expand abroad. And consumers may use it to buy more Chinese goods.

Q: So why do it?  A: The money flows into banks to strengthen their balance sheets. Corporations use it to lower borrowing costs and launch stock-repurchase programs. The ensuing boost in corporate performance helps executives collect “performance pay.”

Q: Won’t the Fed eventually have to sell the trillions in bonds it is buying? How will it be able to find enough buyers?  A: Don’t ask. Nobody knows.

Q: How do QEs contribute to our national debt?  A:The Fed’s purchases of U.S. Treasurys lower the interest rate our government pays to issue them. This can only encourage more borrowing. Since 2008, our national debt has risen more than 60% to more than $16 trillion.

Q: Isn’t that astronomical?  A: Yes. But we can now measure the national debt in lightyears. A lightyear equals nearly six trillion miles. At $1 a mile, our national debt is only 2.6 lightyears.

Q: Why lightyears?  A: Because our economic woes are indefinite, and that’s why QE3 is indefinite. Mr. Bernanke should change his name to Buzz Lightyear: “To infinity and beyond!”

—Al Lewis is a columnist for Dow Jones Newswires in Denver. He blogs at tellittoal.com; his email address is al.lewis@dowjones.com.”