Coronavirus Qualified Plan Relief: 401(k) withdrawal penalties waived due to Coronavirus

The 401(k) plan has many benefits and restrictions. Currently, due to the crisis from the coronavirus, Congress has waived some of the penalties, and increased the loan amount— along with altering other provisions.

Read more here:
https://fortune.com/2020/03/27/401k-withdrawal-penalties-waived-retirement-accounts-loans-retirees-coronavirus-stimulus-package-cares-act-relief-bill/?fbclid=IwAR2_x6jmPGN5fiYcMSZR6ae-II6WJzd9wnbLeYmRQ3bKeTbsFyC0CFEEKcc

US Public Pension Funds Have Lost $1 Trillion in Recent Weeks

“For 2020, pension investment losses could be nearing $1 trillion, according to Moody’s analyst Thomas Aaron. He said this year’s losses will significantly compound the underfunded liabilities currently measured by most public pension funds.

Q4 2019 hedge fund letters, conferences and more

Meanwhile, the economic fallout from the coronavirus is weighing on revenue and threatening to keep government agencies from affording their soaring pension costs. He said the credit impact of the 2020 pension investment losses will depend on a variety of factors. Some of those factors include the severity of the asset declines, each government’s funding and cash flow position, and each agency’s ability to absorb cost increases in their budgets.

If the markets do not bounce back dramatically in 2020, he expects pension investment losses to soar so high that many state and local governments will see damage to their credit quality. Such damage may be due to already heightened pension liabilities and having less capacity to defer costs.“

Read more here: https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2020-03-27/us-public-pension-funds-have-lost-1-trillion-recent-weeks

The Federal Reserve’s Growing Balance Sheet and You

The Graph featured here shows the break out of the various debt holdings on the Fed’s balance sheet, over a specific time interval of 2004 to the present. It clearly shows a growing trend of the accumulation of assets. How did it grow so quickly during this time period? The Fed buys up the assets from the banks, as the banks receive cash from the Fed. Note: The third party dealers broker the transaction.

This has been the primary tactic for the various Quantitative Easing(QE) programs since the market correction of 2008. The balance sheet gives some indication of how much money was been introduced into the money supply, and just imagine how the fractional reserve factor has impacted the actual balance of loanable funds for the banks.


Inflation…inflation and inflation. $4.5 trillion and rising.

Inflation, The Coronavirus, and the Exponentially Growing Federal Reserve Balance Sheet

Since the outbreak of this “virus”, emergency measures, by The Federal Reserve(The Fed), have been implemented. One of those measures has been The Federal Reserve dropping interest rates to 0%.(Read more of this on my other blog articles) Other measures have been on going prior to this “pandemic”—these measures are accelerating thanks to the “virus”.

Let’s look at the graph of the growth trend Federal Reserve’s balance sheet. Assets, on the Fed’s balance sheet, have skyrocketed for the year 2020, overtaking the Repo activity done by the Fed from September 2019 to December 2019(On the graph it is indicated as QE-4). Although they did not officially call this “Quantitative Easing”, the net result was the same: Liquidity was restored for banks, while the Fed purchased the illiquid bank’s assets—this was done printing money from nothing. Looking at this chart, it is quite evident that the current Fed balance sheet is well over $4.67 trillion dollars and rising. This has surpassed the prior peak of circa 4.5 trillion during the zenith of QE-3.

Critics will claim: “Well there isn’t any inflation. See the Consumer Price Index.” This claim is non sense. By definition, inflation is a monetary phenomenon, as it is the expansion of the monetary base. It’s quite clear the monetary base as been expanded exponentially. The “price” inflation impacts the capital markets first, as seen by the equities market and other capital markets. (Note: The term “Price” inflation is simply used to recognize rising prices, as its separate from actual inflation) The recent market crash is evident of this, based upon the constant build up of the prior QE measures. Also, if there were no “price” inflation, why the need for the bailout of the banks with sub prime auto debt on the books?

With regards to sub prime auto loans, Car prices have risen—not necessarily due to the increase of the economic cost to make a car(I would argue it’s declined), but the value of the currency to actually purchase the vehicle has declined. This makes it difficult for the average citizen to purchase the vehicle, as the price seems out of reach. This is due to his wages not keeping pace with the rising prices(declining currency value). Sub prime lending bridges the gap, and many individuals can acquire a new vehicle. However, due to the nature of the sub prime market, the default rate is high—leading to bank illiquidity. Due to the increase of sub prime auto loan defaults, this creates a ripple effect on the secondary market—where institutional investors purchase large packages of these loans—causing the aforementioned QE action by the Fed. Yes, there is inflation.

A growing Fed balance sheet is a harbinger for inflation. The Fed simply doesn’t print cash, it buys assets with cash, that action expands the money supply. The transaction—that buys the assets—is done with a third party dealer, and that dealer deposits the check in their bank. The deposit expands the money supply thanks to fractional reserve banking deposit factor, Also, where does the Fed obtain the cash to buy the assets? Answer: It creates it out of thin air.

Oh and speaking of the dealers, here is a listing, per the New York Fed:

These entities handle the monies for the asset purchases between the Fed and the Fed chartered banks. Once the monies are deposited, the money supply is expanded.

The intrepid zeal to “fix” the issue is in play with the Fed especially during a time of crisis. Will these “fixes” “help” boost the economy?

Read more regarding this topic here:

Economic Impact of a Pandemic

How does a pandemic affect an economy? Obviously, it’s a multilayered topic and FRED has limits to what it can reveal. The good news, of course, is that large-scale pandemics are rare. So the economic effects for most of these outbreaks are hard to see by graphing data. But we can take two of the most extreme examples, which will have visible effects in the data: the Black Death of the mid 14th century and the Spanish flu of 1918-1920.

The Intellectual Journey: An Interview with Robert Higgs

Robert Higgs has had a long and storied career as a scholar, teacher, and editor. After earning his Ph.D. in Economics at Johns Hopkins University in 1968, Bob held academic positions at the University of Washington (1968–1983), Lafayette College (1983–1989), and Seattle University (1989–1994). In 1994 he was named a Senior Fellow in Political Economy at The Independent Institute, a position he continues to hold. Bob was the Founding Editor of The Independent Review: A Journal of Political Economy in 1995 and served as the Editor of the journal from 1995 to 2013, overseeing all aspects of the journal’s content. He remains the journal’s Editor at Large.

Read the rest here and listen to the interview, with Robert Higgs.

https://fee.org/articles/the-intellectual-journey-of-robert-higgs/

Federal Reserve Engages in $500 billion in Repurchase Agreements—Pledges $10 Billion to Act as a back stop for Commercial Paper Market

The Federal Reserve, due to the current crisis caused by the cornavirus, has decided to engage in some aggressive monetary policy to boost the economy. First, they are seeking to acquire repurchase agreements(repos). These agreements have been discussed on this blog in detail. See here: http://robertwilliamsjr.com/repurchase-agreements-are-on-the-rise-who-cares-you-should

Secondly, the Fed placing forward $10 Billion to act as a backstop to the Commercial Paper market. Both measures are supposed to help in the liquidity of the banks that have commercial paper stagnated on their books.

With a Repo, the Fed actually purchases the debt from the banks, then exchanges that for cash. The banks will agree to buy back the debt at a later date. In the meantime, the banks’ balance sheet is strengthened thanks to the injection of cash.

My assessment: More cash in the system, more inflation. A higher back Commercial drop: A moral hazard.

Read more here

https://www.thestreet.com/investing/federal-reserve-sets-commercial-paper-backstop-dollar-gains

Negative Interest Rates: A Delusional Concept Beyond Space and Time

At the time of this writing, the notion of Negative Interest Rates are being pushed forward by central banks throughout the world. Bankers are developing new and improve ways to help stimulate the economy, and the employment of negative interest rates is the latest tool in the banker’s tool kit. Why the use of negative interest rates? How does it actually help the economy?(If it actually does) With this article, it will explore some things that make this concept of negative interest rates against reality. Keep in mind, an entire treatise can be written just on the notion of interest rates.

What Is the Interest Rate?

The non economist(and some mainstream economist) think the concept of the interest rate is exclusively related to the money and finance. There is some truth to this claim. Yes, interest rates are used in the world of finance, for example, loans to obtain a home, cars, or other fixed assets. Most will see the interest rate in these transactions as the “cost” of purchasing the underlying asset.

However, the origins of the interest rate does not begin in the world of Finance. It starts in the world of Economics. One of the forerunners of the development of the concept of the interest rate was Eugen Bohm Bawherk. His critique of Karl Marx’s work(Exploitation theory) lead to an expansion of the interest rate, and subsequent thinkers such as Knut Wicksell continued the development of this notion.

The fundamentals of the interest rate is straight forward: It is all directly related to human action. All behavior is purposeful. Since humans are unable to be in multiple locations in space and time, this means certain actions are done before others. This explicitly means there is a preference in ranking of preferred actions. For example, if three items are preferred, the first item, the second, and the third must be done in order temporally. The utility ranking(as this is called) simply is a preference ranking of the activities the actor chooses to engage. Of course, this example is given for simplicity, as this process is much more dynamic and there are many more options. Nonetheless, the ranking still exists, and due to the constraints of space and time, some items are done now(in the present) others in the later(in the Future).

The interest rate is derived from the economic actors choosing goods in the present versus the future. The prices of those goods–ones purchased in the present versus the ones in the future. That net ratio is the actual “interest rate”. The other consideration: This “interest rate” is unique to each individual. It is subjective to the individual’s preferences, as each person’s utility ranking varies.

Since each person’s utility ranking varies, and the interest rate is unique to each individual, how is it possible for the Central Bank to calculate the overall interest rate? It can not.

The Folly of the Negative Interest Rate

The interest rate, as it is based on present and future transactions, makes the outcome a positive integer. This is the first thing that makes the negative interest rate fallacious. Moreover, in consideration of how man moves through space and time, time travel going backwards in time is not possible. Having a negative interest rate implies the economic actor is moving backwards in time, and currently is choosing things in the past over things in the future. This is nonsensical. Back to the first point, if we take two prices of the same good, a current price versus a future price, how would that yield a negative number? One of those prices, in our ratio, would need to be a negative. Do Vendors sell goods with negative prices?

Vendors with Negative Prices

If vendors(firms) sell goods(currently or in the future) sell goods for a negative price, this would yield a negative interest rate. This also is absurd. The vendor is seeking to sell his goods at the highest price possible, and the consumer is seeking to purchase those goods at the lowest price possible. The optimal point of this scenario is the equilibrium price; this price is not a negative integer. Also, the business owner needs to earn a profit on the sale of his goods. The profit serves several purposes: (1) It allows the owner to cover his expenses to repurchase more goods to sell, (2) The net profit(revenue less expenses) acts as a return on his investment; this is adjusted against the interest rate. Having a negative interest would imply no prices, or no positive integers acting as prices, and the consumers would be receiving the goods plus extra cash(acting as a credit). This also works against the incentives of human action.

Negative Prices

Prices serve as signal callers in the marketplace. They allow both buyers and sellers to realize if there are changes occurring. For example, if prices rise sharply, this could indicate a scarcity issue with that certain good. Perhaps something along the supply change is impaired, causing a delay in the distribution or manufacturing of that good. Note: sharply rising prices will not detail why the food’s price has risen. Based upon that sharply rising price, the consumer can choose to re prioritize his utility preferences and elect to choose a viable substitute, at a lower price, or opt out of buying the good. With this activity, the increased prices discriminate against those who are willing to pay the increases price versus the group of persons who seek to pay for those goods a lower cost.

How would a negative price come into play? If goods became scarce, the owner would not lower the price to the point he give the goods away for free AND provide additional monies to the consumer. The business owner would not stay in business very long. Eventually, consumers would run out of those goods.

Conclusion

As bankers adopt negative interest rates, it simply is a move from the sublime and into the land of folly. Consumers pay for goods with positive integer prices, and firms accept their cash with positive integer prices. This directly correlates into a positive interest rate. Moving interest rates to zero or in the negative simply has a negative impact on the economy, and it should be rejected as a means of monetary policy.

Fed Rates at 0%

In an effort to “boost” the economy, the Fed has dropped interest rates to 0%. What does this mean? With regards to the fundamentals of interest rate theory, the overall aggregate time preference of marginal utility is based upon purchasing items in the present versus the future. In short, the rationale behind this interest rate drop is to encourage spending and boost consumption. There are some glaring flaws with this tactic.


First of all, the notion of the interest rate is subjective to each individual in the economy: How does the Fed actually know what the utility ranking for each individual in the marketplace? They may aggregate numbers, and run various statistical models to attempt to determine the true interest rate, however, this process still will come up short. Unless the members at the Fed are demigods, there is no way of accurately determining the rate. This causes mis allocation of resources starting in the capital markets.

Secondly, it debases the monetary base. Since the rate is at 0%, the goal is to push for consumption in the present. The need to spend money now due to the “cheap” money will deliver more lending into the marketplace. Since the interest is technically a “price”, the Fed price fixing it at 0% makes for a false expansion of the money supply. The asset prices will rise(like a balloon), at the cost of those who can not afford to acquire those goods(assets) at the inflated prices. Note: The prices rise, not due to Price inflation per se, but due to the devalued monetary base. It takes more monetary units to buy that particular item, as that is reflected in higher prices for that item.

If many are concerned about the growing inequality between “classes”, the analysis should start here with monetary policy. As the Fed continues to expand the money supply and grow its balance sheet, look for a growing trend of more sub prime lending to help the lower income classes to acquire goods. This class will not be able to catch up with the rising prices, since their income is fixed.