Most of President Barack Obama’s conservative critics fairly lament the limited benefits from the “stimulus” plan he helped push through Congress in 2009. That package is projected to ultimately cost $831 billion.
But since late 2011, the Federal Reserve has been pumping $85 billion a month (that’s a rate of $1.02 trillion a year) into the economy in an ongoing effort to stimulate it. And the nation’s central bank doesn’t need federal lawmakers’ approval to indulge in that high-stakes enterprise.
So in a perverse yet wholly predictable twist, many investors are getting increasingly jittery about the risks of the economy bouncing back too strongly.
They dread the day when Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke cuts off, or at least slows, that massive monthly money flow. They know he has repeatedly said, and as recently as May 23, that this “quantitative easing” will end once he’s convinced that the U.S. economy has grown strong enough to no longer need it.
Last week’s news of unexpectedly sharp rises in home sales and consumer confidence helped trigger a strong Tuesday on the stock market. And though the Dow Jones Industrial Average took a 106-point tumble on Wednesday, Thursday’s news of unexpectedly high unemployment claims and a lowered revision in first-quarter growth helped settle investors’ nerves (and stock prices).
But the Dow tumbled more than 200 points Friday. Bloomberg News blamed that dive on “better-than-forecast data on business activity and consumer confidence,” which “bolstered concern the Federal Reserve will scale back stimulus.”
Yet rather than rooting for higher unemployment, less growth and more dollar printing that will inevitably endanger our currency if it persists, Americans should take heart at some of the more welcome economic developments:
That home-price increase from March, officially reported last Tuesday, was the highest in nearly seven years.
The Conference Board, a non-profit business membership and research organization, announced last week that the Consumer Confidence rating had reached a five-year peak.
And even with the rough ending to the market’s week, the Dow ended May on a six-month winning streak.
Too bad some of that investor enthusiasm is based on the Fed’s easy money.
Another less than encouraging note: Figures released Friday showed that unemployment in the 17 European Union countries that use the euro rose to 12.2 percent in April — the highest rate since the shared currency was introduced in 1999. In our global economy, Europe’s persisting economic woes — including soaring government debt — have negative ripple effects on us.
Closer to home, the U.S. unemployment rate of 7.5 percent, though our lowest in more than four years, is still too high — and still doesn’t reflect the millions of Americans who have given up looking for work over the last five years.
Our record national debt, at $16.75 trillion and rising, is also too high.
But at least we’re on track for our lowest federal deficit in the last five years.
Meanwhile, rising housing prices mean more Americans are spending more money to buy homes.
And if that positive trend continues, we might even be able to sustain a not-so “jobless” recovery without the Fed printing a trillion a year that we don’t really have.