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Friday, December 01, 2006 11:40 AM

An email from Bernanke

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I was quite surprised to wake up this morning and find an Email from Ben Bernanke sitting in my inbox. It was in response to Bernanke's Box. I wanted to share it with everyone. It seems the Fed is about to initiate a new policy of speaking exactly what is on their minds. The following Email from chairman Bernanke is a kickoff for that campaign. It goes a long way towards speaking openly and honestly about the problems the US is facing and how the Fed intends to deal with them. From Ben Bernanke:

Speaking on behalf of all the Fed members we thought it was time to honestly address the situation the country is facing. This is part of our new policy to be as candid and honest as possible. Quite frankly we are frightened by the rapid falloff in housing permits, the rise in jobless claims, the rise in inventories, and the slowdown in consumer spending. It now appears the landing is not going to be soft and it is also doubtful the financial markets are fully prepared for it.

This slowdown in jobs and wages could not have come at a worse time because consumers are cash strapped already. We now forecast a downward spiral in construction jobs that will spill over into other segments of the economy resulting in additional losses in wages and jobs. Compounding the problem is the fact that many home buyers took the advice of former chairman Greenspan by taking out adjustable rate mortgages with teaser rates that are now about ready to be reset.

Unfortunately we can’t start cutting interest rates just yet because we are also frightened by the massive speculation in the financial markets with stock buybacks, mergers, leveraged buyouts, and trillions of dollars in derivatives floating around some of which we do not even know who the ultimate guarantor is. We are hoping but do not know that the ultimate guarantor of these derivatives is not Madame Merriweather's Mud Hut in Malaysia.

We do not want to fuel further speculation in the equity markets so we have decided to do nothing for as long as possible. Another reason for doing nothing right now is the rapid fall in the US dollar. This frightens us too. All in all, we have decided the best policy decision is to do nothing while hoping that things get better. Please bear in mind, however, that hope is unlikely to work.

Many financial analysts have suggested that corporate spending will take the place of consumer spending when the consumer is finally tapped out. That can’t and won’t happen. Businesses have no reason to expand headed into a consumer led recession. But instead of wisely holding cash for the rough times ahead, businesses have been spending it on stock buybacks at an all time record pace. As you might guess, this further frightens us.

That we are frightened by so many things is clearly visible in the price of gold. In fact, we really have been trying to figure out why the price of gold isn't much higher given how frightened we are. This is indeed our latest conundrum.

In the past we have avoided talking about such issues because of fear that we might simultaneously prick the bubble in houses and the bubble in the equity markets. Careful analysis, however, shows that the average consumer is benefiting from the rise in equity markets as much as he benefited from the $34 billion in bonuses that Wall Street just handed out (which is another way of saying not at all). Real wages have been falling for the average guy on the street and that is shown by 19 consecutive months of negative savings rates, which is of course still another thing we are frightened by.

Make no mistake about it, a recession is where we are headed. We admit our role in fueling these bubbles by holding interest rates too low too long. Rather that attempt to cover up past mistakes our new policy at the Fed is honesty, and honestly we really do not know what to do. When we do decide what to do, we will tip off the banks first (just as we always have) because our biggest fear of all is a collapse of the banking system.

Ben Bernanke
Of all the financial blogs and media outlets, I am pleased and honored to be the one to receive that Email from Ben Bernanke. I am sure he feels much better too after getting all that baggage off his chest. I look forward to receiving more Emails from the Fed and promise to share them as soon as they come across my desk.

Mish addendum:
Judging from email responses as well as replies to this post it seems that some people believed this. Others thought I would be dumb enough to be taken in by an email from someone pretending to be Bernanke.
It is neither. I wrote that piece. I thought it was obvious.
Even if it wasn't initially, by the time one got to "Madame Merriweather's Mud Hut in Malaysia" it should have been exposed as a spoof right then.

Mike Shedlock / Mish

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