Inflation or Instability: The Central Bankers’ Dilemma


Central bankers around the world, including the US Federal Reserve System, are facing a dilemma. With inflation at 40-year highs, and hitting double digits in some countries for the first time in decades, the pain it is causing consumers is forcing central banks to tighten monetary policy. But the risk they take in doing so is that they could end up pushing their economies into a severe recession.

The Fed has a dual mandate, to ensure stable prices, full employment, and moderate long-term interest rates. Yes, that’s technically a triple mandate, but that last one often gets ignored.

You’ll notice that there’s nothing in there about being a guarantor of financial stability, of being the ultimate bailout backstop for failing companies, or being the savior of stock markets. That’s because those things are not the reason for the Fed’s creation.

What we’ve seen since 2008, however, is mission creep on a massive scale. Every time markets sneeze the Fed is ready to provide medicine, in the form of more easy money. Markets have come to rely on this easy money, and they’re not sure how they’re going to operate without it. And that’s why the Fed’s recent policy shift towards monetary tightening has markets so worried.

Is Inflation Still the #1 Problem?

For consumers, inflation over the past couple of years has been catastrophic. Prices for food, energy, housing, and other staples have increased enormously, taking a huge chunk out of paychecks that haven’t been increasing at nearly the same rate. That’s why the pressure to fight inflation has become so great, because inflation has now become a political problem.

Voters who are incensed with how high inflation has gotten could become unpredictable, throwing their vote to whomever claims that to be able to cure inflation. And no government wants to see its power threatened by this kind of unpredictability.

The credibility of central banks is riding on this inflation fight. After the 2008 crisis there was great trust placed in central banks to save the economy and, to most people, it appeared that they were successful. But because the solution to the 2008 crisis was to create trillions of dollars out of thin air in order to keep the last bubble from fully bursting, what has happened instead is the creation of a new, even more massive bubble.

That is the bubble now at risk of bursting, and central banks are playing a balancing act, trying to combat high inflation at the same time as they are trying to keep this bubble from bursting. As much as they would like to force inflation back down to 2%, they realize that attempting to do so forcefully would sink the economy into immediate recession.

But even with the baby steps the Fed is taking right now, it may still force the economy into recession. Once Pandora’s box has been opened, there’s no easy way to go back to the way things were before.

Fed Chairman Jay Powell has put himself in the position of Paul Volcker, who famously conquered high inflation in the early ‘80s by pushing the economy into recession. That’s why anyone who thinks the Fed will be able to tame inflation without the economy falling into recession is engaging in wishful thinking.

Will Financial Instability Take Center Stage?

Markets are betting, indeed hoping, that the Fed will pivot away from monetary tightening and back to monetary loosening. And recent events in the UK have given them hope.

The Bank of England recently was forced to engage in quantitative easing yet again, after it had already begun to raise interest rates. So now we’re seeing central banks engaging in tightening with one hand while loosening with the other.

Central banks are in a precarious spot, and they know it. And now that the first central bank has had to capitulate in order to shore up bond markets, the question is who will be next. Could it be the Fed?

Central banks require functioning bond markets in order to engage in monetary policy. If markets start going wild, and interest rates start moving out of control, the ability of central banks to engage in monetary policy deteriorates or disappears entirely, because they rely on selling bonds to and purchasing bonds from markets in order to influence their target interest rates.

That’s why the BoE had to intervene in markets by buying up long-dated gilts, to ensure stability of the market for those bonds. And it could end up being only a matter of time before the Fed has to engage in similar intervention in order to keep Treasury markets stable, if the weakness of UK bond markets ends up becoming contagious.

The big fear now is that market instability could rear its head and end up spreading across the globe. That would force central banks to abandon their inflation fight and intervene to stop a severe financial crisis.

What This Means for You

What this means for investors is that we’re living in very precarious times. If central banks can’t get inflation under control, the purchasing power of your investments could end up getting eroded 8% or more every year. But if central banks are successful in stopping inflation, but at the cost of causing a recession, the underlying value of your assets could fall significantly.

No matter which way you slice it, central banks now have to pay the piper, and your savings and investments are caught right in the middle. How can you protect yourself?

Thankfully there is one asset that has a track record of performing well even when the economy isn’t: gold. The last time the economy was faced with this conundrum of high inflation and recession, during the stagflation of the 1970s, gold’s average annualized gains were over 30% for the decade.

That’s why gold has the reputation it does as both an inflation hedge and as a safe haven asset. And the worse the economy gets, the more people turn to gold to help protect their wealth.

If you have retirement savings in a 401(k), IRA, TSP, or similar account, you may be wondering how you can protect those assets with gold. Well, there’s an easy way to do that, with a gold IRA.

A gold IRA is an IRA account that owns and holds physical gold coins and bars. You can roll over or transfer assets from existing retirement accounts into a gold IRA tax-free, allowing you to protect those assets with a safe haven like gold. And your gold IRA offers all the same tax advantages as any other IRA account.

Think of a gold IRA as one more tool in your arsenal, a way to protect the money you’ve spent years or decades building up from the dangers of inflation and recession. And if you want to learn more about that tool, call the precious metals experts at Goldco today.

With thousands of satisfied customers and over $1 billion in precious metals placements, Goldco has an established reputation in the precious metals industry. We work hard to ensure that our customers can help protect themselves with precious metals and preserve their dreams of a safe and comfortable retirement.

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About the Author: Paul-Martin Foss