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20 Questions For Ben Bernanke

A game of 20 questions with the Fed Chairman…

1. The rescue packages in 2008-2009 were all aimed at restoring CONFIDENCE to the financial system.  Yet from 2001 to 2011 the DXY is down 41.5 and gold is up 473%. Does this not equate to a loss of confidence in the US monetary system? If not how would you explain this phenomena?

2. In March of 2009 you said the ONLY reason you care about Wall Street is because of the affect it has on Main Street. You wanted to become Fed Chairmen to make things better “for the average person”. You have been Chairmen since 2006, do you believe you have accomplished your goal? And if so how?

3. In March of 2009 you stated that “many mistakes were made leading up to the crisis of 2008″, chief amongst them was “enormous amounts of savings has flowed into the United States, and some other industrial countries. That savings has come from China and East Asia. It’s come from oil producers. And it has– and hundreds of billions of dollars, it has come into our financial system. And, you know, that would be great if we took that money and invested it wisely, and got a high return. But instead, our financial system– didn’t– didn’t do a good job”  What has changed since you made that statement? Is money being invested wisely…..getting a high return?

4. You believe that confidence in the financial system, is one of the most if not the most important aspect in creating a lasting recovery. Yet 2 years after the recession ended and the banks have been stabilized, the recovery remains tenuous at best. Could this be because “average people” do not trust a regulatory system that did NOT hold banks and the people therein accountable for their bad/fraudulent behavior leading up to the financial crisis of 2008?

5. What do you consider to be the mandates of the Federal Reserve? Is the “wealth effect” not the 3rd mandate of the federal reserve?

6. You have stated that you believe high food and fuel prices to be transitory. Can you define transitory? And define what you believe to be a return to normalcy for food and fuel prices.

7. In March of 2009 you stated that for QE1 the Fed was printing money. However, you have stated that QE2 is not printing money. Can you define the difference?

8. The recession has been over for 2 years. Yet job gains have been anemic. Why do you think this is? And how long until Americans will see a more normalized unemployment rate?

9. The disclosed portfolio of Maiden Lane I assets includes various eurodollar and interest rate swaps indicative of hedging. Does the Federal Reserve hedge its broader $2.7 trillion SOMA Balance Sheet? And if so how? If not, why not?

10. Has the Federal Reserve ever invested in domestic or international equity markets? If so, which Wall Street broker does the Fed use to conduct equity market interventions?

11. In the June 2003 FOMC Transcript Vince Reinhart disclosed that the Fed had sold derivatives on instruments held by the Fed’s balance sheet: “the Desk sold options on RPs for the weeks around the century date change that totaled nearly $0.5 trillion of notional value.” Has the Fed since then engaged in selling of derivatives on RPs or any other Fed assets? If so, which Wall Street institution does the Fed use as a broker to transact through?

12. The president recently announced that he will pursue oil “speculators” blaming them for the nearly 50% jump in Crude. Yet a simple correlation shows that broad commodity indices correlate nearly 100% with the size of the Fed’s assets. In light of this do you side with the president and blame speculators for the surge in energy prices, or believe this is some collusive cabal acting independent of the surge in free liquidity?

13. A quick look at your most recent balance sheet indicates that “Other Federal Reserve Assets” hit an all time high of $125.6 billion in the week ended April 20. Can you provide a break down of what these “assets” consist of?

14. A prevailing theme of over 80% of recent Permanent Open Market Operations has been the prompt refunding of Primary Dealer “On The Run” (just auctioned off) Treasurys back to the New York Fed, with the Fed purchasing up to over the old SOMA limit of any given CUSIP within a month of auction. Can you explain how this is substantially different from outright monetization of up to a third of any given issue? Can you also explain and quantify what the economic benefits to the Primary Dealers are from participating in such a process? Does the Fed keep track of how much in Mark To Market gains and losses are incurred by taxpayers as a result of the POMO reverse dutch auction? How much money have Primary Dealers made by “flipping” bonds from the Treasury back to the Fed?

15. At the time QE2 is over, the Fed’s balance sheet will be just over $2.8 trillion. The DV01 on that amount of holdings will be about $1.5 billion, or in other words a 1% rise in interest rates will be three times greater than the Fed’s total capital of $52.6 billion as of April 20. Does the Fed only have a capital buffer for a 33 bps rise in rates? What happens if rates increase by more? What is the basis by which the Fed’s total capital account is calculated?

16. As a result of rising interest rates, the principal repayments of agency MBS and agency debt (the mandate of QE “Lite”) have ground to a halt. In fact, in the most recent POMO schedule, the QE Lite component was a QE2 low $17 billion. If rates continue to rise (an indication of QE2′s failure according to some) the QE Lite mandate will be rendered irrelevant. Does the Fed model for what interest level will end the process of principal repayments on its agency portfolio?

17. The Fed is expected to continue the QE2 Lite mandate of keeping the size of its balance sheet constant, which means rolling maturing Treasurys. As of April 20, the Fed held $119 billion in Treasurys maturing in under a year. Assuming the full amount is “rolled” this is roughly one fifth of the full amount of of Treasurys to be purchased under QE2. If so, will replacement Treasurys be purchased in the open market and what maturities will the Fed be focusing on?

18. Recently the San Francisco Fed compared QE 2 to 1961′s Operation Twist whose purpose was to halt the exodus of gold as an interest rate arbitrage vehicle from the US to Europe. Is the Fed conserned that gold is once again being transferred offshore? Does the Fed have a “fair value” estimate for what the price of gold should be under the Fed’s current view of the economy?

19. The Fed focuses on CPI to inform its decision about the prevailing rate of inflation in the US. In the US, food and energy components of CPI are deminimis, accounting for under 20% of the overall inflation gauge. Other countries, particularly China whose currency is pegged to the dollar, and whose monetary policy has a major impact on the US as well, have a CPI where food and energy account for nearly half the overall inflation metric. Is it this discrepancy that the Fed will attribute the paradox of China tightening rates (and having done so for nearly half a year now) while the US continues to rely on a ZIRP policy and is still loosening via daily POMO operations? At what point will the Fed consider this parallel tightening and loosening for the world’s two largest economies, whose currencies are pegged, problematic?

20. In prior FOMC transcripts, Alan Greenspan indicated that gold had historically been used by the FOMC to gauge inflation expectations. Is it still used in that capacity, and if so what does it tell the Fed about where the market believes inflation is headed?

21. Bonus question: Per Frank-Dodd, the Fed is now regulator of all banks. Yet banks are still allowed to circumvent Mark To Market accounting. How comfortable is the Fed that the financial information provided it by the MTM-exempt institutions is credible, the institutions are actually risk-free, and that the Fed is conducting prudent monetary policy in the absence of real time financial data?

22. Bonus Bonus question: the Fed’s primary market-valued liability: the USD has plunged to multi year lows. Yet the Fed’s primary market-valued asset: Treasury bills continue to trade in a range and as recently as some months back traded at all multi year highs. To what do you attribute this fundamental mispricing?


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