The Politics of Delayed Disaster
But why? And how?
The five-year inflation expectation has been on an uptrend ever since Operation Twist2. In fact, it passed above the significant 2% level last Friday.
Indeed, the nonfarm payroll number last Friday was bad, if you decide to focus on the bad part that is. And indeed it is an important data point for the Fed.
But if you take a step back and look at the bigger picture and over a slightly longer time horizon, the U.S. economy is decidedly, unequivocally, ho-hum. It's at least not bad (remember the 8/28 Case-Schilling housing data anyone?), which is the best thing any country can say nowadays.
To expand the Fed balance sheet when inflation expectation is 2%, the economy is mixed, and two months before an election would be unprecedented. It would create a huge risk of inflation and political hailstorm, thus badly damaging the Fed's credibility as well as the future of Ben Bernanke's personal career.
I guess it doesn't cost anything for the Fed to say "we'll maintain a zero interest rate policy indefinitely." Although they'll run out of short-term treasuries to sell by the end of Twist 2, I suppose they could redefine "short-term" and start selling longer-term holdings or even pull a twist on agencies.
But as Zerohedge pointed out , any significant increase in the Fed's purchase of long-term treasuries or mortgage-backed securities threatens overwhelming the market and exhausting liquidity.
In other words, the market has set itself up for certain and imminent disappointment, on a huge scale.
However, when things are so skewed, there must be some other rational explanation. The best rational explanation I've found so far comes from the always insightful John Dizard, by way of FT . It goes like this, in my words:
The Obama administration became worried in July that further worsening of the euro crisis would be very damaging to the re-election effort. Therefore they leaned heavily on eurozone leaders to at least hold it off until after the election. Particularly significant is German Chancellor Merkel's change of heart, over the very public and persistent objection from Bundesbank.
To summarize, it's all election politics. And I'll add Chinese politics into the mix: China will undergo its once-in-a-decade power transition in about a month. But the supposedly anointed next leader, XI Jinping, has been ubiquitously missing from several highly visible events in recent weeks, not the least being Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit. This coming right on the heels of the dramatic and embarrassing events around his former rival, Bo Xilai, rumors have spread far and wide about continuing power struggle and uncertainty in the transition. But now there are signs of this coming to an end.