Central Banks’ Stock Socialism

Central banks have until recently obtained their income from interest on the bonds they hold. But with interest rates now so low, central banks, like other bond holders, are receiving little revenue. So now, central banks are buying shares of stock to get higher income from dividends and capital gains.

Since central banks are agents of governments, their stock ownership amounts to back-door socialism.

The reason interest is so low now is because central banks around the world have been pushing rates down. The low income from savings accounts and bonds has hurt retired folks and have distorted stock markets. The U.S. stock market averages have been making new highs to a great extent because bonds yields are so low, and also because US companies are borrowing funds at low rates to buy back their stocks.

Governments already tax and regulate economies, and they own industries such as education and much of medical care.  Now they want to own more of the whole economy. Even if a central bank buys shares in an index fund, they artificially raise share prices, and they do it with money they create. Moreover, what happens when the price of stocks has a large drop? Will the central banks contribute to the selling, or buy more?

According to a report by the a report to be published this week by the Official Monetary and Financial Institutions Forum, governments and their agencies have already made twenty-nine trillion dollars of market investments. The largest governmental investor is China. The Swiss and Danish central banks have also been buying substantial equities. Central banks have also been buying real estate. Ever more financial and real assets are being acquired by central banks, and thus also by the governments that own and control them.

The ownership of the economy is not what the founders of central banks had in mind. When the Federal Reserve was established in 1913 in response to the banking panic of 1907, its role was to stabilize the banking system as a lender of last resort. For a long time, the Fed purchased US treasury bonds to expand the money supply, as it created the funds it used to buy bonds. But after the recession of 2008, the Fed also bought mortgage-backed securities as well as shares in companies it wanted to bail out.

But now central banks are not buying shares to bail out failing companies, but to increase their income. Ultimately this buying is self-defeating for central banks and all investors, because such massive purchases raise the ratio of share prices to yields, reducing the rates of return.

The pension funds of government employees have, of course, been investing in the stock markets, as well as in bonds and real estate, but these funds can be regarded as belonging to the employees rather than to governments. Governments with surpluses such as from trade or oil sales have set up “sovereign wealth funds” that invest in financial markets, with the potential to manipulate and distort markets. There should be a global treaty to confine sovereign funds to government bonds and global index funds.

It is even worse for central banks to invest in private financial markets because they are creating the money they use for these purchases. This inflation of the money supply is not for stabilizing the currency or helping the banking system, but just to get stock market yield. That monetary inflation will eventually cause price inflation and fuel an even bigger real estate bubble than that which ended in the Crash of 2008.

The ultimate remedy for such asset distortion is the elimination of all central banks. Since that will not happen, we will have to witness a coming financial tragic horror. Just as in the years prior to 2008, we are sitting in boats on a river whose current will take us ever faster the financial waterfall. The most likely year of the next crash will be in 2026, as the 18-year real estate cycle has been the leading cause of the business or interventionist cycle for the past two centuries.

Last time around, government-sponsored enterprises such as Fannie Mae helped stoke the boom by packaging and selling real estate mortgages. The financial reforms after 2007 did nothing to stop the basic causes of the real estate cycle. Now, the massive purchases of stocks, in addition to bonds and real-estate related assets, will help make the Crash of 2026 the biggest ever.

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