The Trouble with Economic Forecasting is…

PricingSometime in May last year, I wrote a column for a digital publication, in which I said that the Modi government’s luck on the oil front would run out in 2015-2016. As is wont in such cases, I was more than a little vague about exactly when would the Modi government’s luck on the oil front run out.

I was just trying to follow an old forecasting rule: “forecast a number or forecast a date, but never both”. So, I sort of forecast a date. Honestly, I was wrong about it. The Narendra Modi government’s luck on the oil front continued through 2015.

Nevertheless, things have started to heat up in the recent past. Since February 12, 2016, the price of the Indian basket of crude oil has gone up by around 75%. As on May June 2, 2016, the price of the Indian basket for crude oil was at $46.83 per barrel.

This isn’t a column on trying to defend, what was a largely wrong forecast. What I want to explore in this column is the basic point about forecasting being a very difficult thing to do. While it’s always easy to explain things in retrospect, it is very difficult to predict how things will play out. And it is even more difficult to predict when things will play out, the way you expect them to play out.

Let’s take the basic forecast of oil prices going up. I was right about the point that when oil prices start to go up, the luck on which the good fortunes of the Modi government are built will start to run out. I will not explain it again here, given that I have explained it, often enough in the past, and perhaps might do it again, in the days to come.

Nevertheless, I got the timing wrong, despite making a very open ended forecast. There are two basic points to making a forecast—one is you expect the trend to continue—the other is you do not expect the trend to continue.

I expected that the trend of lower oil prices would not continue. While I have been right about that, but I have been wrong about the timing.

But what about forecasts, where economists and analysts, expect a trend to continue. Take the case of what economist Arvind Panagariya wrote in India—The Emerging Giant, a book that was published in 2008: “India has been growing at an average annual rate exceeding 6 percent since the late 1980s. During the four years spanning 2003-2004 and 2006-2007, its growth rate reached 8.6 percent—a level close to that experienced by the East Asian miracle economies of the Republic of Korea and Taiwan during their peak years. As the book goes to press, fears that the economy is overheating can be heard loudly, but virtually no one is predicting a significant slowdown in the growth rate in the forthcoming years.”

Panagariya, like most economists, did not see the financial crisis, coming. He also, like most economists, thought the current trend would continue. But that did not turn out to be the case. Also, most economists find it easier to say what other economists are saying. This is because if and when they are wrong, then they are wrong in a majority.

And it is safe to be wrong when everyone else is wrong. Nevertheless, if one economist forecasts something which goes against the trend and is wrong about it, then only he has to bear the consequences of being wrong. Life is easy, when everyone is wrong, and hence it makes sense to go with the herd.

Let’s take another example here of the economist Milton Friedman and the prediction he made when the price of oil started to go up in the early 1970s.

In January 1974, the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries(OPEC) raised the price of oil to $11.65 per barrel. This was after OPEC’s economic commission had determined that the price of oil should be $17 per barrel.

It was around then that the economist Milton Friedman wrote in a col­umn in the Newsweek magazine where he predicted that “the Arabs … could not for long keep the price of crude at $10 a bar­rel.” For this prediction, Friedman was awarded the Booby Prize by the Association for the Promotion of Humour in International Affairs
The price of oil was quoting at more than $18 a barrel by the end of 1979. And by early 1981, it had risen four-fold and was quoting at nearly $40 a barrel. Friedman had been proven wrong for a long period of time.

In 1986, finally the price of oil was quoting again at $10 a bar­rel. And Friedman wrote a “I told you so” column in an issue of the Newsweek magazine which appeared on March 10, 1986. The column was titled “Right at Last, an Expert’s Dream.” This, of course, was in jest. As Friedman confessed, “Timing, as well as direction, is important…I had expected the price of oil to come down far sooner.”
Now does that mean that it makes sense to go against the herd? I wish I could say that. Over the last few years, a huge number of gold bugs have been coming out of the woodwork and predicting that gold prices will rise again. While, gold has done reasonably well in the recent past, a sustained rally in the yellow metal hasn’t been seen as yet.

So, next time you hear an analyst or an economist, make a forecast, with great confidence, it might be worth remembering that old saying in economics: “economists have predicted nine out of the last five recessions”.

The column was originally published on June 7, 2016

Milton Friedman is having the last laugh on euro

The euro came into being on January 1, 1999. On this day, 11 countries in Europe joined together to form what came to be known as the Eurozone or countries which use the euro as their currency. Greece joined the Eurozone on June 19, 2000, and gave up on its own currency, the drachma.

Fifteen years on Greece is in a terrible economic state. More than 50% of its youth population is unemployed. The economy has contracted by 25% since 2010. And its debt to gross domestic product (GDP) ratio has jumped to 175% from 129% in 2009.

Also, the country has voted against a referendum which essentially asked the citizens whether they were ready to face more austerity measures in return for a third bailout by the economic troika of the International Monetary Fund, the European Commission and the European Central Bank.

The country owes around 240 billion euros to the European Commission, the European Central Bank (ECB) and the IMF. The troika has been lending money to Greece for a while now. As Mark Blyth writes in Austerity—The History of a Dangerous Idea: “In May 2010, Greece received a 110-billion-euro loan in exchange for a 20 percent cut in public-sector-pay, a 10 percent pension cut, and tax increases.”

Every time the troika lends money it demands more austerity measures from Greece. The troika wants to ensure that the budget of the Greek government enters into a positive territory so that the country is finally able to start repaying the debt it owes, instead of borrowing more to repay what it owes.

The troika wants the Greek government to run a surplus i.e. its revenues should be more than its expenditure. As Blyth writes that the idea seems to be to: “Cut spending, raise taxes—but cut spending more than you raise taxes—and all will be well.” The trouble is that the austerity that has accompanied Greece has hurt rather than helped Greece. As the GDP has contracted, the debt to GDP ratio has jumped up majorly.

This vote against the referendum has made Germany more aggressive on the question of allowing Greece to continue staying in the Eurozone. While it is difficult to predict which this will go, my guess is that ultimately Greece will allowed to stay in the Eurozone and the current crisis will be postponed for a latter day, for the simple reason that the euro is ultimately as much a political idea as it is an economic one.

A major reason for which countries within Europe came together to form a monetary union and start using a common currency was to ensure closer economic cooperation and integration in order to ensure that countries in Europe did not fight any more wars against each other. The First and the Second World Wars were the deadliest wars that the world had ever seen.

As the Nobel Prize winning American economist Milton Friedman wrote in a 1997 column: “The aim has been to link Germany and France so closely as to make a future European war impossible, and to set the stage for a federal United States of Europe.”

Having said that monetary unions are not always easy to run. As Friedman wrote: “A common currency is an excellent monetary arrangement under some circumstances, a poor monetary arrangement under others…The United States is an example of a situation that is favorable to a common currency. Though composed of fifty states, its residents overwhelmingly speak the same language, listen to the same television programs, see the same movies, can and do move freely from one part of the country to another; goods and capital move freely from state to state; wages and prices are moderately flexible; and the national government raises in taxes and spends roughly twice as much as state and local governments.”

As far as countries coming together to start using the Eurozone were concerned, their residents spoke different languages, they watched different television programmes and movies and did not really move freely from one country to another. And most importantly different countries needed a different interest rate policy at different points of time.

But within a monetary union with a common currency that is not always possible. And this led to problems within the Eurozone. As Ramesh Ponnuru writes on Bloomberg View: “During the boom years a decade ago, Greece and other countries on Europe’s periphery over-borrowed because interest rates were inappropriately low for them.”

In 1992, before the euro came into being, the German government could borrow at 8% and the Greek government at 24%. By 2007, this difference had largely gone. The German government could borrow at 4.02%. And the Greek government could borrow at 4.29%. When the interest rates for the government fell, fell as dramatically as they did in parts of the Eurozone, the government as well as the private sector ended up borrowing a lot more.

And this primarily led to a huge housing bubble across large parts of the Eurozone. In a normal scenario where there was no monetary union the central bank of a country could have raised interest rates and made it more expensive for the private sector to borrow. This would have ensured that the real estate bubble wouldn’t have gone on for as long as it did.

But the European Central Bank had to keep the entire Eurozone in mind and not just Greece and other weaker countries like Spain, Italy and Portugal. Hence, it allowed the low interest rates to remain low.

In the aftermath of the crisis, the weaker countries in the Eurozone needed low interest rates. As Ponnuru writes: “During the bust, the European Central Bank’s efforts to keep inflation low in the core has led to a punishing deflation in the periphery. The European Central Bank raised interest rates in 2008 and 2011 — at both the start and the middle of Greece’s depressions.”

Even if Greece continues to be within the Eurozone in the days to come, these basic problems with the euro will continue to remain. And that would mean that euro and financial crises will continue to be closely linked.
The column appeared on The Daily Reckoning on July 8, 2015


Oil prices are at a 4 year-low now but assuming that they will continue to fall is risky business


Vivek Kaul

Oil prices have been falling for a while now and have now touched a four year low. As per the data published by the Petroleum Planning and Analysis Cell, the price of the Indian basket of crude oil touched $ 82.83 per barrel on October 16, 2014.
There are several reasons for the fall (You can read about them in detail
here and here). Analysts expect this growth to continue to fall in the years to come. Several fundamental reasons have been offered as an explanation for the same.
As Crisil Research points out in a research report titled
Falling crude, LNG, coal prices huge positive for India “Over the next five years, we expect global oil demand to increase by 4-4.5 million barrels per day (mbpd). However, crude oil supply is expected to increase by 8-10 mbpd. This, we believe, will bring down prices from current levels.”
This augurs well for India as falling oil prices will ensure that the under-recoveries suffered by the oil marketing companies(OMCs) on selling diesel, cooking gas and kerosene, will fall. The government has been compensating the OMCs for these under-recoveries. Falling under-recover will mean lower government expenditure leading to a lower fiscal deficit. Fiscal deficit is the difference between what a government earns and what it spends.
Analysts Harshad Katkar and Amit Murarka of Deutsche Bank Markets Research in a report titled
Breaking Free point out that “Fuel subsidy could fall to an annual level of $7billion – a 70% reduction over financial year 2014 – by financial year 2020 and potentially reduce the government’s fuel subsidy burden to zero by 2021 driven by elimination of the diesel subsidy and rationalization of the cooking fuel subsidy.”
These arguments sound pretty good. The only problem is that predictions on which direction oil prices are headed invovle too many variables and predicting all these variables at the same time is not an easy thing to do.
On several occasions in the past, well renowned experts have ended up with eggs on their face while trying to predict the price of oil. In January 1974, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) raised the price of oil to $11.65 per barrel. This was after OPEC’s economic commission had determined that the price of oil should be $17 per barrel.
It was around then that the economist Milton Friedman wrote in a column in the
Newsweek magazine where he predicted that “the Arabs … could not for long keep the price of crude at $10 a barrel.”
By early 1981, the price of oil had risen to $40 a barrel. A spate of reasons including the politics of the Middle East were responsible for this rise. Other than the politics of the Middle East, in April 1977, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) of the United States had come up with a highly influential report which predicted that the growth of the world oil demand would soon outpace production.
This was primarily because of constraints on the OPEC production. The Soviet Union, another big oil producer, would reach its peak soon. This meant that by the mid-1980s, oil would become very scarce and expensive, the report pointed out.
Customers, including some of the biggest international oil companies, were queuing up to buy oil. The report succeeded in generating sufficient paranoia among the oil-consuming nations as well as the big oil-producing companies. Hence, they wanted to buy as much oil as they could.
All the doomsday predictions regarding the price of oil turned out to be wrong. By 1983, the average OPEC price had fallen to $28 per barrel leading to some members of OPEC offering additional hidden discounts in an attempt to boost their stagnating sales.
By 1986, the price of oil was quoting again at $10 a barrel, proving the CIA prediction to be all wrong. Milton Friedman, though, was right about the price in the end. And Friedman would write a “I told you so” column in
Newsweek which appeared on March 10, 1986, titled “Right at Last, an Expert’s Dream.” This, of course, was in jest. As Friedman confessed, “Timing, as well as direction, is important…I had expected the price of oil to come down far sooner.”
What this tells us is that it is very difficult to predict the long term direction of the price of oil. One reason why oil prices have not risen in the recent past despite the rise of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) is because the outfit has not been able to move into the southern part of Iraq where a major part of the country’s oil is produced. Southern Iraq is dominated by the Shias who do not support the ISIS.
Then there is the so called deal between Saudi Arabia and the United States, where the ruling dynasty of Saudi Arabia is believed to have engineered a fall in the price of oil so as to ensure that the security guarantee that they have from the United States, continues.
The trouble is that with the price of oil now lower than $85 a barrel, the shale oil boom that is happening in the United States and Canada, might not be able to continue. Shale oil is expensive to produce and it is financially viable only if the price of oil remains at a certain level. As analysts of Bank of America-Merrill Lynch point out in a report titled
Does Saudi want $85 oil? “With production costs ranging from $50 to $75/bbl at the well head, a decline in Brent crude oil prices to $85 would likely be a major blow to US shale oil players and lead to a significant slowdown in investment.”
The shale oil boom can lead to a situation where the United States no longer needs to depend on the Middle East and other countries to meet its oil needs. Hence, to some extent it is in the interest of the United States that oil prices continue to fall. At the same time, one reason that dollar continues to be the international reserve currency is because oil continues to be bought and sold in dollars.
Saudi Arabia over the years has cracked the whip among the OPEC nations to maintain a status quo on this front. It is in the interest of the United States that the dollar continues to be the international reserve currency. While every country in the world needs to earn dollars, the United States can simply print them.
And to ensure that dollar continues to be a reserve currency, the United States, needs Saudi Arabia on its side. The Saudis currently would prefer a lower price of oil, in order to make the production of shale oil unviable. At the same time they would like the security guarantee they have from the United States to continue, in order to protect them against the ISIS.
As the Bank of America-Morgan Stanely analysts point out “It should perhaps not come as a surprise that the threat of a stateless group that challenges the status quo by attempting to redraw national borders is shifting incentives for key regional and global players…The Islamic State could present a direct threat to the Arab monarchies at a time of growing social discontent…In our view, Saudi and other regional rulers may prefer to re-engage the US to help protect established borders from the expanding caliphate. What could Arab countries offer the West to help contain this threat? Lower oil prices.”
This issue is too complex to make a prediction on. Nevertheless it will have a huge impact on the direction in which oil prices will go in the years to come. Further, the chances of the current turmoil in the Middle East escalating, still remain. As Milton Ezrati writes in a piece titled
ISIS, Oil, and the Economy on Huffington Post “There is no mistaking the huge remaining importance of Persian Gulf supplies. If the turmoil there were to take a significant portion of this output off line suddenly, the world would be hard pressed to replace it, and prices would rise with all their ill effects.”
He further points out that “the Persian Gulf itself is also a choke point of no small significance in oil transport. The EIA reports that upwards of 35 percent of sea going oil and gas passes through the Gulf and the narrow Strait of Hormuz at its head. If Iran were to become further embroiled in Iraq’s problems or otherwise come to a confrontation with Western powers, the strait would close and the world would find itself without any of this still crucial supply.”
The price of oil is not just determined by the demand and supply equation. The politics of the Middle East and which side of the bed Uncle Sam wakes up from remain very important factors. For any analyst trying to predict the price of oil, taking all these “qualitative” factors into account remains very difficult.
To conclude, what are the lessons that we can draw from this. First and foremost we need to ensure that the price of diesel is decontrolled. And more than that we need to ensure that it continues to be decontrolled in the years to come, even if the global price of oil rises.

The article originally appeared on on Oct 18, 2014

(Vivek Kaul is the author of the Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek) 

A 400 year old economic theory explains who really runs the Indian stock market


Vivek Kaul

On September 12, 2008, the Bank of England, had total assets worth £83.8 billion on its books. In the six years since then, the total assets of the British central bank have gone up by a whopping 385.6% to £ 404.3 billion, as on September 17, 2014.
Things haven’t been much different in the United States. The Federal Reserve of United States had assets worth $905.3 billion as on September 3, 2008. Since then it has jumped to $4.45 trillion, as on September 17,2014. An increase of close to 392%.
The total assets of the Bank of Japan have more than doubled since the start of 2011. In January 2012, the total assets of the Japanese central bank had stood at 128 trillion yen. Since then, it has more than doubled to 275.9 trillion yen at the end of August 2014.
Since the start of the financial crisis in the middle of September 2008, Western central banks have printed money big time. This money has been pumped into the financial system by buying bonds. These bonds have ended up as assets on the balance sheet of central banks.
The idea behind this, as I have often mentioned in the past, was to drive down long term interest rates, leading to people borrowing and spending more at lower interest rates. This would, in turn, lead to economic growth, the hope was.
When central banks started printing money, the Cassandras (which included yours truly as well) started to point out that the era of high inflation was on its way. The logic offered was fairly straight forward. With so much money being pumped into the financial system, it would lead to a lot of money chasing the same amount of goods and services in the economy, and that would drive prices up at a rapid rate, and lead to high inflation.
But that did not turn out to be the case. The Western world had already taken on huge loans before the financial crisis broke out and was in no mood to borrow and spend all over again.
This lack of inflation has been used by central banks to print and pump more money into the financial system. The hope now is that with all the money that has been pumped into the financial system some inflation will be created. This inflation will lead to people spending more. The logic here is that no one wants to pay a higher price for a product, and if prices are going up or likely to go up, people would rather buy the product now than wait. And this will lead to economic growth. That in short is the gist of what the policy of the Western central banks has been all about over the last few years.
The economist Milton Friedman had suggested that a recessionary situation could be fought even by printing and dropping money out of a helicopter, if the need be, to create inflation.
And this is what Western central banks have done since September 2008, in the hope of reviving economic growth. While they may not have been able to create “some” conventional inflation as they wanted to, there is a lot else that has happened. And that needs to be understood.
When central banks print money, they do so with the belief that money is neutral. So, in that sense, it does not really matter who is standing under the helicopter when the money is printed and dropped into the economy. But the Irish-French economist Richard Cantillon who lived during the early eighteenth century, showed that money wasn’t really neutral and that it mattered where it was injected into the economy.
Cantillon made this observation on the basis of all the gold and silver coming into Spain from what was then called the New World (now South America). When money supply increased in the form of gold and silver, it would first benefit the people associated with the mining industry, i.e., the owners of the mines, the adventurers who went looking for gold and silver, the smelters, the refiners and the workers at the gold and silver mines.
These individuals would end up with a greater amount of gold and silver , i.e., money. They would spend this money and thus drive up the prices of meat, wine, wool, wheat, etc.
This rise in prices would have impacted even people not associated with the mining industry, even though they wouldn’t have seen a rise in their incomes, like the people associated with the mining industry had.

This is referred to as the Cantillon Effect. As analyst Dylan Grice puts it : “Cantillon, writing before the days of Adam Smith, was the first to articulate it. I find it very puzzling that this insight has been ignored by the economics profession. Economists generally assume that money is neutral. And Milton Friedman’s allegory about the helicopter drop of money raising the general price level completely ignores the question of who is standing under the helicopter.”

The money printing that has happened in recent years has been unable to meet its goal of trying to create consumer-price inflation. But it has benefited those who are closest to the money creation. This basically means the financial sector and anyone who has access to cheap credit.
Institutional investors have been able to raise money at close to zero percent interest rates and invest it in financial assets all over the world, driving up the prices of those assets and made money in the process.
As the economist William Bonner put it in a column he wrote in early 2013: “The Fed creates new money (not more wealth… just new money). This new money goes into the banking system, pretending to have the same value as the money that people worked for. And people with good connections to the banks take advantage of the cheap credit this new money creates to aid financial speculation.”
This financial speculation has led to massive stock market rallies all over the world.
As I wrote in a piece last week The Dow Jones Industrial Average, America’s premier stock market index, has rallied more than 30 percent since October 2012. This when the American economy hasn’t been in the best of shape. The FTSE 100, the premier stock market index in the United Kindgom, has given a return of 15 per cent during the same period. The Nikkei 225, the premier stock market index of Japan has rallied by 53 per cent during the same period. Closer to home, the BSE Sensex has rallied by around 43 per cent during the same period.”
Let’s take a closer look at the Indian stock market over the last two years. The foreign institutional investors have invested Rs 1,82,789.43 crore during this period (up to September 19,2014). During the same period the domestic institutional investors sold stocks worth Rs 1,07,327.65 crore.
It is clear from this that foreign money borrowed at low interest rates has been driving the Indian stock market. The domestic investors have continued to stay away.
So, even though a lot of domestic investors may talk about the India growth story being strong, they really don’t believe in it. If they did, they would invest money and not simply talk about it.

Hence, even though the economic growth through large parts of the world continues to remain subdued, the stock markets can’t seem to stop rallying. The explanation lies in the access to the “easy money” that the big institutional investors have.
And this access to easy money will continue in the days to come. The Bank of Japan, 
the Japanese central bank is printing around ¥5-trillion per month and is expected to do so till March 2015. The European Central Bank is also preparing to print €500-billion to €1-trillion over the next few years. All this money will be available for big institutional investors to borrow at very low interest rates.
The Federal Reserve of United States has made it clear that even though it will go slow on printing money in the days to come, it is unlikely to start pumping out all the money that it has put into the financial system any time soon.
Hence, the stock market bubbles around the world are likely to continue in the days to come. As Claudio Borio and Philip Lowe wrote in
the BIS working paper titled Asset prices, financial and monetary stability: exploring the nexus  “lowering rates or providing ample liquidity when problems materialise but not raising rates as imbalances build up, can be rather insidious in the longer run. They promote a form of moral hazard that can sow the seeds of instability and of costly fluctuations in the real economy.”
The worst, as they say, is yet to come.
The article originally appeared on on Sep 27, 2014

(Vivek Kaul is the author of Easy Money trilogy. He tweets @kaul_vivek)

Why the Federal Reserve wants to continue blowing bubbles

Bernanke-BubbleVivek Kaul 

The decision of the Federal Reserve of United States to continue printing money to revive the American economy, has gone against what most experts and analysts had been predicting. The Federal Reserve had also been saying that it plans to start going slow on money printing sooner, rather than later. But that hasn’t turned out to be the case. So what happened there?
When in doubt I like to quote John Maynard Keynes. As Keynes once said “Both when they are right and when they are wrong, the ideas of economists and political philosophers are more powerful than is commonly understood. Indeed, the world is ruled by little else.” The current generation of economists in the United States and other parts of the world are heavily influenced by Milton Friedman and his thinking on the Great Depression. 
Ben Bernanke, the current Chairman of the Federal Reserve of United States is no exception to this. He is acknowledged as one of the leading experts of the world on the Great Depression that hit the United States in 1929 and then spread to other parts of the world. 
In 1963, Milton Friedman along with Anna J. Schwartz, wrote A Monetary History of United States, 1867-1960. What Friedman and Schwartz basically argued was that the Federal Reserve System ensured that what was just a stock market crash became the Great Depression. 
Between 1929 and 1933 more than 7,500 banks with deposits amounting to nearly $5.7billion went bankruptWith banks going bankrupt, the depositors money was either stuck or totally gone. Under this situation, they cut down on their expenditure further, to try and build their savings again. 
If the Federal Reserve had pumped more money into the banking system at that point of time, enough confidence would have been created among the depositors who had lost their money and the Great Depression could have been avoided. 
This thinking on the Great Depression came to dominate the American economic establishment over the years. In fact, such has been Friedman’s influence on the prevailing economic thinking that Ben Bernanke said the following at a conference to mark the ninetieth birthday celebrations of Friedman in 2002. “I would like to say to Milton and Anna: Regarding the Great Depression. You’re right, we did it. We’re very sorry. But thanks to you, we won’t do it again.”
At that point of time Bernanke was a member of the board of governors of the Federal Reserve System. What Bernanke was effectively saying was that in the days and years to come, at the slightest sign of trouble, the Federal Reserve of United States would flood the financial system with money, as Friedman had suggested. That is precisely what Bernanke and the American government did once the financial crisis broke out in late 2008. And they have continued to do so ever since. Hence, their decision to continue with it shouldn’t come as a surprise because by doing what they are, the thinking is that they are trying avoid another Great Depression like situation.
Currently, the Federal Reserve prints $85 billion every month. It pumps this money into the financial system by buying government bonds and mortgage backed securities. The idea is that by flooding the financial system with money, the Federal Reserve will ensure that interest rates will continue to remain low. And at lower interest rates people are more likely to borrow and spend. When people spend more money, businesses are likely to benefit and this will help economic growth. 
The risk is that with so much money going around in the financial system, it could lead to high inflation, as history has shown time and again. To guard against this risk the Federal Reserve has been talking about slowing down its money printing (or what it calls tapering) in the days to come.

Ben Bernanke, the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, first hinted about it in a testimony to the Joint Economic Committee of the American Congress on May 23, 2013.
As he said “if we see continued improvement and we have confidence that that is going to be sustained, then we could in — in the next few meetings — we could take a step down in our pace of purchases.” As explained earlier, the Federal Reserve puts money into the financial system by buying bonds (or what Bernanke calls purchases in the above statement). 
Bernanke had hinted at the same again while 
speaking to the media on June 19, 2013, Bernanke said “If the incoming data are broadly consistent with this forecast, the Committee currently anticipates that it would be appropriate to moderate the monthly pace of purchases later this year…And if the subsequent data remain broadly aligned with our current expectations for the economy, we would continue to reduce the pace of purchases in measured steps through the first half of next year, ending purchases around mid-year.”
Given this, the market was expecting that the Federal Reserve will start to go slow on money printing, sooner rather than later. But that hasn’t happened. The consensus was that the Federal Reserve will start by cutting down around $10 billion of money printing i.e. reduce the money it prints every month to around $75 billion from the current $85 billion.
So why has the Federal Reserve decided to continue to print as much money as it had in the past, despite hinting against it in the past? Bernanke in a press conference yesterday said that conditions in the job market where still far from the Federal Reserve would like to see. The Federal Reserve was also concerned that if it goes slow on money printing it could have the effect of slowing growth. “In light of these uncertainties, the committee decided to await more evidence that the recovery’s progress will be sustained before adjusting the pace of asset purchases,” Bernanke said.
Let’s try and understand this in a little more detail. Federal Reserve’s one big bet to get the American economy up and running again has been in trying to revive the real estate sector which has suffered big time in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
This is one of the major reasons why the Federal Reserve has been printing money to keep interest rates low. But home loan(or mortgages as they are called in the US) interest rates have been going up since Bernanke talked about going slow on money printing. 
As the CS Monitor points out “Since Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke first mentioned the possibility of scaling back the Fed’s purchases this past June, the average rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage has surged over 100 basis points –sitting at 4.6 percent as of last week – and certain market indicators are showing signs of slowdown.” This has led to the number of applications for home loans falling in recent weeks. 
Also, as interest rates have gone up some have EMIs. 
As an article in the USA today points out “after a mere hint of new policy spiked mortgage rates enough to add $120 a month, or 16%, to the monthly payment on the median-priced U.S. House.” 
Higher interest rates leading to higher EMIs on home loans, obviously jeopardises the entire idea of trying to revive the real estate sector. New home sales in the United States dropped 13% in July. And this doesn’t help job creation. As the USA Today points out “At more than 4 jobs per new single-family home, that means a normal recovery in housing — not a 2005-like bubble — would add 3 million jobs…Moody’s Analytics says. Quick arithmetic tells you that 3 million new jobs would take 1.9 percentage points off the unemployment rate.”
And that is the real reason why the Federal Reserve has decided to continue printing $85 billion every month. Of course, one side effect of this is that a lot of this money will find its way into financial and other asset markets all around the world.
Investors addicted to “easy money” will continue to borrow money available at very low interest rates and invest in financial and other markets around the world. So the big bubbles will only get bigger. 
As economist Bill Bonner writes in a recent column “Works of art are selling for astronomical prices. High-end palaces and antique cars are setting new records. Is this reckless money hitting the stock market too?”
Or as a global fund manager told me recently “
If you look at Sotheby’s and Christie’s, in the art market, they are doing extremely well. The same is true about the property market. Prices have gone up to $100,000 in places which are in the middle of a jungle in Africa. Why? There is no communication. No power lines there.” 
The answer is very simple. The “easy money” being provided by the Federal Reserve will continue showing up in all kinds of places.

The article originally appeared on on September 19, 2013

(Vivek Kaul is a writer. He tweets @kaul_vivek)