It is difficult to figure out what this article is saying, but these excepts may provide a clue: What lifts asset prices, Mr. Bernanke and others argue, is the willingness of lenders to offer riskier types of loans, which "juice up the housing market and are not very responsive to interest rates," as Mark Zandi, chief economist at the research firm Economy.com , put it. "There are two ways to approach bubbles: one is interest rate policy, the other is microregulatory policy," he said... Pursuing his point, he added: "Research on historical episodes suggests that large asset price increases are sometimes preceded by credit booms. In many cases, this pattern results from the fact that the country in question deregulated its banking system, giving banks extra powers, but did not enhance the supervisory structure adequately at the same time." It seems the idea is to increase bank regulations, reducing the number of risky loans. This makes sense in many ways, but it will probably mean that investors will move their money to less restrictive opportunities elsewhere. rkm -------------------------------------------------------- http://www.nytimes.com/2005/11/04/business/04fed.html November 4, 2005 The Greenspan Effect To Fight Rising Prices, Fed Nominee May Need New Weapons By LOUIS UCHITELLE Early in his tenure as chairman of the Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan declared that the risk of too much inflation was so considerable that he would "err more on the side of restrictiveness than of stimulus." And he meant it. At his very first meeting, in August 1987, Mr. Greenspan established his inflation-fighting credentials by pushing up short-term interest rates in response to only a modest rise in consumer prices, a move that contributed to the stock market crash just two months later. Ben S. Bernanke , who is expected to take over at the Fed in February, will almost certainly echo Mr. Greenspan's step, raising rates at his first meeting next year, in part to demonstrate his commitment, too, to keeping inflation under control. But for all the similarities of their actions upon taking office, Mr. Bernanke faces a fundamentally different set of circumstances than those that Mr. Greenspan confronted 18 years ago. "Inflation is clearly not right around the corner like it used to be," said Edward M. Gramlich, until recently a Fed governor and now interim provost at the University of Michigan. "The relationships are different, and Mr. Bernanke is going to have to figure them out." Perhaps the biggest differences are the rise of global production, as well as much easier access to capital, particularly from abroad. Adding to the change is labor's weaker bargaining power. These factors have combined to greatly diminish the force of old-style inflation in which demand outran supply, pushing prices ever higher, and wages, too, until the Fed put the brakes on the economy. Instead, a new style of inflation has emerged as one of the principal threats to the economy. It is evident in the stock market bubble of the late 1990's and in surging home prices in this decade. This asset price spiral, as it is called, has proved much more resistant to the Fed's standard interest rate tool than traditional inflation. Mr. Bernanke, for his part, is known as an advocate of inflation targeting, a technique for adjusting interest rates with the aim of keeping traditional inflationary pressures within a limited range. He has also asserted, like Mr. Greenspan, that he does not intend to use interest rates prematurely to puncture an asset bubble. But he has signaled a readiness to use a different set of tools to fight the new inflation, and in this he departs from Mr. Greenspan. What lifts asset prices, Mr. Bernanke and others argue, is the willingness of lenders to offer riskier types of loans, which "juice up the housing market and are not very responsive to interest rates," as Mark Zandi, chief economist at the research firm Economy.com , put it. Lenders can engage in riskier loans because they have developed techniques in recent years that make it far easier for them to shed their vulnerability to risk, doing so mainly by shifting the risk of default to others. The lenders operate in sophisticated markets that allow thousands of individual investors to purchase a slice of the original loan, and a slice of the risk. In the past, the danger of default as rates rose tended to discourage lenders from making overly risky loans. The lender, often a bank, kept the loan and bore all the risk. Mr. Bernanke, in response to the risk shifting, has raised the possibility of limiting the dangers through the use of regulations - microregulatory policy, he calls it. "There are two ways to approach bubbles: one is interest rate policy, the other is microregulatory policy," he said in a little noted interview published last year by the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. "Microregulatory policy is the much better approach, in my view," Mr. Bernanke said. Pursuing his point, he added: "Research on historical episodes suggests that large asset price increases are sometimes preceded by credit booms. In many cases, this pattern results from the fact that the country in question deregulated its banking system, giving banks extra powers, but did not enhance the supervisory structure adequately at the same time." The surge in oil and gas prices is another big source of inflation that Mr. Greenspan did not have to deal with in his early days as chairman, and through most of his tenure. Many economists argue that rising interest rates are a double-edged sword under such circumstances. They note that higher fuel prices do not blunt the demand for petroleum products. Rather than cut back on purchases of gasoline and heating oil, consumers offset the rising cost by cutting back first on other purchases: automobiles and appliances, for example. That slows the economy. Rising interest rates encourage this cutback, slowing the economy even more. "Whereas in 1987, it was clear that the way to combat inflation was to raise interest rates," said Brian Sack, a senior economist at Macroeconomic Advisers who once wrote a research paper with Mr. Bernanke, "today the Fed's policy makers have to be cognizant that the higher energy prices are slowing the economy" on their own. Not that Mr. Bernanke would be less diligent than Mr. Greenspan in resorting to interest rates to prevent inflationary expectations from creeping back into consumer and business behavior. That happens when prices rise unchecked, as they did during the oil shocks of the 1970's, encouraging people to buy more to avoid paying higher prices later. The stepped-up demand only encourages more price increases, and then wage increases to keep up with the price increases, until the Fed, in response, pushes interest rates so high that the economy is knocked flat on its back and demand finally is punctured. Paul A. Volcker took this route as Fed chairman in the 1980's; so did his successor, Mr. Greenspan, who pushed up rates to nearly 10 percent in his first three years, helping to provoke the early 90's recession, which further reduced the inflation rate. Mr. Bernanke has no intention of reversing these gains. "Inflation-averse central bankers," he said in a speech last fall, while he was serving as a Fed governor, before shifting to chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, are "likely to contribute to increased central bank credibility and hence better policy outcomes." But his world is different from Mr. Volcker's and Mr. Greenspan's. They dealt with a more closed, less global economy. If the nation's manufacturers were running their factories flat out, using all their productive capacity, and were still unable to meet demand, the shortages were considered inflationary. That made capacity utilization a much-discussed concept in Mr. Greenspan's early days. It is now rarely mentioned, for good reason. The output - the capacity - of other countries pours into the United States. In 1987, factories in this country supplied nearly 95 percent of what Americans consumed; today they furnish less than 80 percent. Another pillar of old-time inflation was wage pressure that intensified as unemployment fell. Not long after Mr. Greenspan became chairman, the jobless rate dropped below 6 percent and kept falling, a traditional signal that a shortage of workers would give them leverage to negotiate higher wages. Economists argued endlessly about how low the unemployment rate could go before inflation began to accelerate, pushed along by rising wages. They referred to this balancing act as the nonaccelerating inflation rate of unemployment, another economic concept seldom mentioned today. The trade-off reflected labor shortages that have since diminished as additional production of goods and services has shifted abroad, in effect globalizing the nation's labor supply. The unemployment rate has held below 5.5 percent since February, but instead of rising, median wages - adjusted for inflation - have fallen. The Fed's policy makers also responded much more in the late 80's to what they perceived as a potential shortage of capital. The concern was that American investors could not easily finance the Reagan administration's rising budget deficit and also the credit needs of the private sector. The competition for the limited supply of funds came to be known as "crowding out," another concept now discarded as foreigners, particularly the Chinese, pour their savings into Treasury securities. In 1987, 15 percent of all Treasuries were owned by foreigners; today 45 percent are. "It may have been the case," Mr. Gramlich said, "that when the Fed tightened, the higher rates would crowd out some investment. Now you don't have that effect. Rates rise and you suck in more capital." To be sure, the gradual shift to a more global economy and the vast expansion of global capital markets have not left the central bank with no inflation to fight. But the dynamics have changed. "Sometimes people ignore the rest of the world and think of the United States as an isolated island," said Alan S. Blinder, an economist at Princeton University and a Fed governor in the Greenspan era. "That is clearly incorrect. "Or you can view the United States as a big cork bobbing in a figurative sea that is the global economy," Mr. Blinder added. "That is also incorrect." Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company -- -------------------------------------------------------- http://cyberjournal.org "Apocalypse Now and the Brave New World" http://www.cyberjournal.org/cj/rkm/Apocalypse_and_NWO.html Posting archives: http://cyberjournal.org/cj/show_archives/?date=01Jan2006&batch=25&lists=newslog Subscribe to low-traffic list: •••@••.••• ___________________________________________ In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.