Bloomberg Finds the Fed on Bubble Watch

Bloomberg gets a nice scoop that the Federal Reserve is apparently worried about the new bubble it’s inflating.

Federal Reserve officials are stepping up scrutiny of the biggest U.S. banks to ensure the lenders can withstand a reversal of soaring global-asset prices, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Global stocks are up 71 percent from March. At the same time gold is soaring. So is oil.

Much of that rebound is due to the diminished possibility of near-term apocalypse, but many, including “finance officials in Asia,” say that the rapid increase is speculative excess. It would have been nice if Bloomberg had said which officials. One was the top banking regulator in China, which is more important than, say, an official at some bank.

The Fed’s kind of damned if it does and damned if it doesn’t here. Keep rates low and risk further inflating a bubble that will someday burst or raise rates and hurt the already-shattered economy, which is undergoing the process of deleveraging.

Evidence for that comes as Bloomberg drops in that lending is down at Bank of America and Wells Fargo by 6 percent and 14 percent, respectively. This information isn’t properly contextualized in the story, but I think it was included because it could indicate that the big banks are trying to preserve capital in case of a downturn.

Of course, not borrowing as much money and spending it now will reduce current economic growth, but it will boost future sustainable economic growth rather than a mirage now.

But Bloomberg does well to include the Quote of the Month here, relevant as it is:

John Mack, chief executive officer of Morgan Stanley, said banks’ behavior justified a Fed crackdown.

“We cannot control ourselves,” he said yesterday at a panel discussion hosted by Bloomberg News and Vanity Fair at Bloomberg LP’S headquarters in New York. “You have to step in and control the Street.”

Goldman apologizes and Morgan Stanley shows humility all in one week. How about that?

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Ryan Chittum is a former Wall Street Journal reporter, and deputy editor of The Audit, CJR's business section. If you see notable business journalism, give him a heads-up at Follow him on Twitter at @ryanchittum.