Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Gillian Tett: West’s debt explosion is real story behind Fed QE dance


The danger with addictions is they tend to become increasingly compulsive. That might be one moral of this week's events.
A few days ago, expectations were sky-high that the Federal Reserve was about to reduce its current $85 billion monthly bond purchases. But then the Fed blinked, partly because it is worried that markets have already over-reacted to the mere thought of a policy shift.
Faced with a choice of curbing the addiction or providing more hits of the QE drug, in other words, it chose the latter.
In many ways this is understandable; the real economic data is still soft. But as investors try to fathom what the Fed will (not) do next, it is worth pondering a timely speech made recently by former UK regulator Lord Turner.
As he told Swedish economists last week, and repeated to central bankers and economists in London this week, the real story behind the recent dramatic financial sagas – be that the market dance around QE or the crisis at Lehman Brothers five years ago – is that western economies have become hooked on ever-expanding levels of debt.
(Read moreFed: No taper)
Until this situation changes it is delusional to think that anyone has really "fixed" western finance with post-Lehman reforms, or created truly healthy growth, Lord Turner insists.
Put another way – although he did not say so bluntly – one way to interpret this week's dance around QE is that policy makers are continuing to prop up a financial system that is (at best) peculiar and (at worst) unstable......