Wednesday, October 1, 2008

U.S. Government: Screw the Savers!

BusinessWeek says "American savers have drawn the short straw":
American savers, take a bow. This is your moment of vindication. Your hour of glory. And you earned it (in a manner of speaking).

You resisted the siren call of plastic teaser APRs, dutifully living within your means to store money for a rainy day. You never took out an interest-only mortgage. Never had to pawn the copper pipes from your exurban McMansion to pay the reset on your liar loan. Your credit score would have gotten you into Harvard at age 12.

Good for you! Your reward: injurious savings yields, inflationary rot, and election-season neglect, all served up with a dollop of institutional insecurity.

Even with a current account deficit that, starved of domestic savings, requires $2 billion a day in foreign financing, economic policymakers are fixated on propping up credit and giving the participants in the housing bubble second chances. In order to do so, they are stripping the hides off of net savers.

Since August of last year, the Federal Reserve has slashed interest rates from 5.25% to 2.00%—wielding a blunt instrument that was swung enough to bend the yield curve in favor of suffering banks. You know, the institutions that screwed up but were too big and important to be deprived of an inalienable right to cheap deposits that they can loan out at several points higher. ...

Wholesale inflation has soared 9.8% in the past 12 months, the highest clip since 1981. The more widely cited consumer price index jumped to 5.6%. In other words, while your saved buck was adding 2 cents or so on one end (and even less after taxes), three times as much was getting singed off the other end of that dollar bill. "Inflation is just deadly to savings," says David Gitlitz, chief economist at TrendMacrolytics, an investment adviser. ... "It steals your purchasing power and sets less and less of an incentive to keep money in the bank." ...

Commodity inflation has also been exacerbated by concurrent weakness in the dollar, which is stuck between a Europe that is loath to cut interest rates and a Washington that is too scared to hike them. Even with its recent rally, the greenback is only worth two-thirds of a euro. You practically have to wheelbarrow dollars to places like Madrid and Berlin.

All of which might be tolerable to the lonely and beleaguered saver if he weren't taunted daily by lopsidedly pro-spending, pro-creditor news stories. Forget about moral hazard. Forget about rewarding profligacy. Washington is hell bent on putting a floor beneath the housing market. ...

Maybe savers' ultimate vindication will arrive when and if every asset is so deflated, credit is so choked off, and misery is so prevalent that only those with cold hard cash can lob in lowball offers for homes, cars, and everything else. Assuming, of course, they didn't stash all their money in one of the many banks that is about to go under; the feds are closely watching 117 of them—and counting. The phone lines have never been so jammed with nervous clients.

Oh, the joys of saving.

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