Wednesday, January 26, 2011

27 Months of ZIRP

For those not in the know, ZIRP stands for Zero Interest Rate Policy, the policy which the FOMC of the Federal Reserve reiterated again today, ensuring that the federal funds rate will remain at zero at least until March 15, the date of their next meeting, unless some exogenous event - unlikely - forces their hand in the interim.

The zero per cent federal funds rate obviously applies to banks only, those borrowing from the Federal Reserve. Sadly, you and I cannot receive such largesse. Were that the case, the conditions under which most Americans suffer - high debt and high rates - would be greatly alleviated.

Alas, that is not the mandate of the Fed, however. Their goal is - despite what they or their slaves in congress might tell us - to nuke the toxic assets and malinvestments made by the big national banks into some far away wasteland, never to be heard of or seen again. The problem is that the banks are not happy with the condition. They wish to have their cake and eat it too. Not only have they been made whole for their subprime scandals and toxic mortgage mistakes by the Fed, but they continue to hold onto these assets as though they are magic candy, sending out delinquency notices and foreclosing on families who cannot meet their demands for payment.

Would the banks simply stop playing their charade on the American public and just take the losses as they should, our economy could get moving again and interest rates would rise to some acceptable level - maybe three to four per cent - where everybody would be happy. Of course, that would necessitate some degree of pain to the likes of Citigroup, JP Morgan Chase and the rotten Bank of America (could they please change their name? It makes all of us US citizens look bad.) and that would simply not be acceptable.

This two-year old Fed policy of zero per cent interest on federal funds has been a complete failure. The economy continues to limp along, though money flows freely to Wall Street and the banks, on a daily, regular basis. Meanwhile, real unemployment remains at 18-20% (Great Depression levels), the federal government continues to run extraordinary deficits ($1.5 trillion for fiscal 2011), and homes remain unaffordable to the majority of Americans. If the banks would write down and write off their bad loans, the real estate market would crash, making homes more affordable than ever.

But it won't happen. Not with a nitwit in the White House and a gaggle of othr equally worthless politicians demanding the status quo remain in play. No banks go down, which means no growth in the economy.

So be it.

We've had ZIRP since December 2008, and will have it for the rest of his year, probably. The Fed has long ago run out of good ideas with which to fix a broken economy. Now would be a good time to abolish it.

Dow 11,985.44, +8.25 (0.07%)
NASDAQ 2,739.50, +20.25 (0.74%)
S&P 500 1,296.63, +5.45 (0.42%)
NYSE Composite 8,193.64, +52.51 (0.64%)

Advancers finished well ahead of declining issues, 4128-1605. On the NASDAQ, there were 160 new highs and just 13 new lows. The numbers on the NYSE were similar, 241-11. Volume was just a tad better on the NASDAQ. The NYSE might just as well have been closed. The Dow punctured the 12,000 mark, but couldn't hold it; party hats were deferred until another day.

NASDAQ Volume 2,047,729,500
NYSE Volume 4,812,036,000

The new March front end oil contract got bid up $1.14, to $87.33, a price that is largely unsustainable. NYMEX crude should be sitting at $70 or less per barrel. Anything above that acts as a tax on consumers and slows the economy further. Gold was actually higher, though only by 70 cents, to $1,333.00. Silver gained 32 cents, to $27.13, and seems to be stabilizing along with gold at these levels.

The Fed says there's no inflation (except for food and fuel). Obviously, they live in a different world than ours, where one neither has to eat, stay warm or drive a car. No wonder they're keeping interest rates at ZERO. It matches their collective IQ.

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