Shahien Nasiripour has delivered a massive 4,000-word article on the Fed’s monetary policy, laying out with great clarity just who’s benefiting (big banks, corporations, and the U.S. Treasury) and who’s losing (the public at large, and especially retired savers and the unemployed).
To some extent, monetary policy always works like that: savers get hit when interest rates fall, while banks love it. But this time it’s even worse than usual, since businesses aren’t borrowing or investing — and insofar as they are borrowing, they’re using the proceeds to buy back their stock, rather than to employ more people.
The net result is that the banks — whose collective cost of funds is now less than 1% — are now lending overwhelmingly to just one borrower:
U.S. banks now own more than $1.5 trillion in Treasuries and taxpayer-backed debt issued by mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, according to the latest weekly data provided by the Fed. It’s a 30 percent increase from the week prior to the Fed’s Dec. 16, 2008, announcement that it was lowering the main interest rate to 0-0.25 percent.
Outstanding commercial and industrial loans at U.S. banks have fallen from $1.6 trillion in October 2008 to $1.2 trillion this past September, Fed data show. The $390 billion drop is equivalent to a 24 percent reduction in credit to businesses.
It’s truly outrageous that banks are lending more money to the U.S. government than they are to all commercial and industrial borrowers combined; well done to Nasiripour for connecting these dots and for providing a much-needed dose of outrage at the way in which Bernanke’s monetary policy simply isn’t helping the broad mass of the U.S. population.
Is there something else that Bernanke could be doing, and isn’t? Nasiripour doesn’t address that question in this piece. But simply framing the problem is important enough: with fiscal policy in gridlocked Washington a non-starter, monetary policy is all that we have. And it clearly isn’t having the desired effect.Felix Salmon is an Audit contributor. He's also the finance blogger for Reuters; this post can also be found at Reuters.com.