The 2008 Crisis was caused by too much debt/ leverage, particularly in the form of illiquid derivatives (mortgage backed securities get the most attention, but the derivatives market was well over $800 trillion at the time of the crisis).
To combat the financial crisis, the Fed did three things:
1) Cut rates to zero.
2) Abandon accounting standards.
3) Engage in Quantitative Easing/ QE.
None of these policies represented “solutions” to the crisis. In fact, you couldn’t even accurately argue that they represented “containment.” What the Fed did was permit the very cancerous securities that nearly imploded the Wall Street banks to spread beyond from the private sector onto the public’s balance sheet.
You cannot cure cancer by letting it spread from one area of the body to the next. You cannot solve a termite problem by letting the termites move somewhere else in a house. So how could one argue that you could solve a financial crisis by letting the problems spread elsewhere in the financial system?
Consider mere leverage levels. Going into the 2008 crisis, the investment banks sported leverage levels in the 30-40s. Lehman was leveraged at 31 to 1. Morgan Stanley was leveraged at 30 to 1. Merrill Lynch peaked out in the low 40s.
Today, the Fed’s has $57.6 billion in capital and $4. 4 TRILLION in assets. That represents a leverage level of 75 to 1.
The Fed will argue that this leverage does not matter because it can print money to increase its leverage levels. This is technically true, but doesn’t alter the fact that the Fed has backed itself into a corner by buying up over $3.5 trillion worth of stuff… which the Fed has no idea how to exit.
Indeed, we know that Janet Yellen was “somewhat concerned about exit strategies” back in 2009 when the Fed’s balance sheet was $2 trillion or so. Today it’s more than TWICE that. One wonders just how “concerned” she is today, with the Fed’s balance sheet larger in size than the GDP foremost developed countries.
Even more absurd is the Fed’s ongoing issue with interest rates. Never before in history has the Fed kept rates at zero for 5+ years. But then again, never before has the Fed’s real taskmasters, the TBTFs, been sitting on over $180 trillion in interest rate based derivatives.
Those who shrug off these issues are overlooking the fact that the treasury dept. has ordered survival kits for employees at the TBTFs… while the New York Fed, has been boosting its satellite office in Chicago in preparation for potential market dislocations when the inevitable interest rate hike hits.
Indeed, nothing exposes the fallacies of the Fed’s policies of the last five years like its horror at the prospect of raising rates even a little bit. Rates have been effectively zero for five years. Today, the Fed is so concerned about what even ONE rate hike would do that it is actively preparing for potential systemic risk.
A second round of the great crisis is coming. The Fed didn’t fix 2008.; it simply set the stage for something even worse.
Smart investors are preparing now.
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