Answer--Inventories and a bit of fiscal stimulus.
On Friday, The Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) reported that 3rd Quarter GDP rose by 2% meeting most analysts expectations. The real story, however, is hidden in the data. Inventories added 1.44 percentage points to the 3Q real GDP, which means that--absent the boost to existing stockpiles-- GDP would be well-below 1%. If it wasn't for Obama's fiscal stimulus (ARRA), the economy would be sliding back into recession.
Improvements in consumer spending were too meager to indicate a "rebound", and residential investment dropped off sharply following the expiration of the firsttime homebuyer credit. The economy is in a coma and desperately needs more government support. But if Tuesday's midterm elections turn out according to predictions--and the GOP retakes the House of Representatives--there won't be any more stimulus. Instead, the economy will sputter along at a snail's pace until festering bank woes (this time, the foreclosure crisis) trigger another contraction.
The fiscal remedies for recession are well known and have effectively implemented with great success for over a half century. QE is a pointless detour into uncharted waters. It is like treating a hangover with brain surgery when the bottle of aspirin sets idle on the bedstand. Why bother?
Bernanke is convinced that pouring money into the system will produce the results he wants. This is how the Fed chair pays homage to the great monetarist icon, Milton Friedman. Friedman had unwavering faith in the power of money. Here's what he said about Japan in 1998:
So, how would Friedman explain the fact that the Bank of Japan implemented many rounds of QE and came up snake-eyes--no measurable improvement at all? The economy is still in the grips of deflation nearly 20 years later. This is from Bloomberg today:
Government reports today reinforced signs of a worsening economy that indicate the Bank of Japan needs to do more, with September consumer prices and industrial production sliding more than forecast. Japan's inflation-linked bonds signal investors don't anticipate the nation will end deflation, with prices seen falling an average of about 0.78 percent in the next eight years.
"The BOJ is totally behind the curve," said Junko Nishioka, chief economist at RBS Securities Japan Ltd. in Tokyo, who used to work at the central bank.
"Japan will likely need "helicopter money drops' to ensure a full escape from the Great Deflation," Citigroup Inc. Chief Economist William Buiter. (Bloomberg)
There won't be any helicopters because that would provide money to ordinary working people rather than bankers and speculators. That's a no-no. On top of that, the Bank of Japan is planning to purchase privately-owned securities as well as government bonds in its next phase of QE. That will keep asset prices artificially high and prevent stockholders and bondholders for taking losses on their bad bets. The program is designed to transfer the red ink onto the public in terms of a depreciating currency and years of needless agony.
In the next few months, jobless benefits will end for more than 1.2 million workers. QE will do nothing for them nor will the Republican-led House of Representatives which is already on the record as being opposed to emergency extensions. This is from the National Employment Law Project:.
"Of the 1.2 million workers at risk of losing federal benefits, 387,000 are workers who were recently laid-off and are now receiving the six months (26 weeks) of regular state benefits. After exhausting state benefits, these workers would be left to fend for themselves in a job market with just one job opening for every five unemployed workers and an unemployment rate that has exceeded nine percent for 17 months in a row--with no federal unemployment assistance whatsoever."