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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Income bubble or asset bubble?

What is the objective of QE2? Is it holding asset prices higher or is it pulling incomes higher? In other words, is the purpose of QE2 to create asset bubble or income bubble? In any situation, I prefer income bubble to asset bubble. I always thought it was ridiculously straight-forward. But may be the US FED and authorities do not understand it. Or may be I don't get it. So let me put the arguments out.

Rising asset prices do not give as much benefit as rising income. 
To gain advantage out of rising asset prices you need to monetize the assets. The monetization is advantageous if you replace the higher value asset with other asset. Replacing asset value with consumption is wrong. Any financial analyst worth his salt will explain that it impairs the balance sheet. Further, using asset values to create more debt is absolutely mindless. 

If asset prices have to be artificially inflated, it means there was mal-investment in the first place. If asset prices are held up, it gives the signal to the market to create more assets. This is exactly opposite of the signal we intend to give to markets.

When policy makers want to support asset prices they create a price floor. This only allows the prices to increase. They expect higher asset prices to translate into higher consumption expenditure (through wealth effects) and thereafter into higher incomes (through consumption led growth). It seems to be a round-about way of achieving growth. 

Contrast to that, working with incomes is better. 
Rising incomes create surplus disposable cash. Thus,  income creates direct support for asset prices. Let me highlight the support is direct. Now, working with income relates more to working on unemployment (or ensuring full employment) than issuing income diktats. Keynes understood this mechanism and hence advocated full employment. Full employment is able to efficiently translate income growth towards best skills. 

Thus, the objective of bailout or economic revival policy should be full employment and not a certain level of asset prices.