About one year ago, the FED-President Bernanke started giving press conferences to explain the policy decisions of the Federal Open Markets Committee. I was pleasantly surprised then, but I was also a bit wary of the continued low interest rates. With the risk of being hilariously wrong I think his recent choice to state that the FED will keep the interest rate low for a number of years, is a horrible mistake that will cost us significantly.
One thing to remember of course, is that monetary policy at low interest rates is really Bernanke's cup of tea and expertise. In this research paper of 2003, he essentially describes all the possible policy measures of the FED:
- committing to low interest rates for a longer time frame (thus shaping expectations),
- changing the composition of the balance sheet (for example buying treasuries or swapping maturities),
- changing the size of the FED-balance sheet.
And in hindsight we can see that this is precisely the road map that the FED has been following the last years.
So why do I think this long period of low interest rates is wrong?
My main argument is quite simple. For markets to function properly, there must be uncertainty with respect to the real economy but also with respect to the behaviour of monetary authorities. This uncertainty by definition leads to a distribution of market expectations with some being more bearish and others more bullish. Thus, uncertainty is helpful as it creates the maximum liquidity in a market and maintains an overall balance with respect to divergence of expectations of the future.
Following this line of thought, the announcement of future low interest rate (for a long period) by the FED is the equivalent of giving a serious prolongued committment. And while this is done on purpose, with the aim to help out financial markets, I think it reduces uncertainty too much. Market participants will expect the FED to behave this way and the market will be robbed of an important uncertain factor. Thus, the market will become flawed and market expectations will not be balanced or evenly distributed any more. As a consequene the FED only stands to lose now, if for some sudden reason the market circumstances require a reversion of the outspoken low interest course.
I think that right now we are already seeing the effect of the FED behaviour. The effect of the low interest rate now leads some players in the US to desire negative interest rates on bonds. And in my view this is only the beginning. And therefore I am now officially going on record stating that Bernanke - brilliant as he may be - has blundered into a serious misstake here.