The world has no shortage of doom-saying economists ready to advise investors to stock up on gold against a coming financial catastrophe. Until recently, none of them could claim to be a former Chairman of the Federal Reserve Board.
On Wednesday, though, as the Federal Open Market Committee prepared to announce the end of the years-long asset purchase program known as Quantitative Easing, Alan Greenspan, the near-legendary Fed chair whose every utterance used to be parsed by market watchers, spoke before the Council on Foreign Relations and advised listeners that under current conditions, gold is probably a good investment.
According to Wall Street Journal reporter Michael S. Derby, “Mr. Greenspan said gold is a good place to put money these days given its value as a currency outside of the policies conducted by governments.”
Greenspan has been talking up gold in a number of settings lately. But he didn’t stop there in his appearance Wednesday. The Fed was about to make a fairly significant announcement about the end of its QE program, under which it has purchased trillions of dollars in assets in an effort to keep interest rates low and stimulate investment. Greenspan weighed in on that program with some surprising comments.
The former Fed chairman from 1987 to 2006 said the QE program had failed to achieve its primary goals. As a means of boosting consumer demand, the asset purchase program, he said, “has not worked,” though it did a good job of increasing asset prices.
Greenspan’s decision to publicly analyze the effectiveness of the QE program on the day his former colleagues were expected to announce its completion was remarkable, if only because during his tenure as Fed Chair, he was notorious for his desire to give the financial media little or nothing of substance to analyze about the central bank’s decision making process.
He once described his own public statements about the Fed’s decisions on monetary policy as “a language of purposeful obfuscation,” employed to prevent markets from overreacting to statements about future policy.
While Greenspan’s credibility as an economic forecaster was damaged by the collapse of the mortgage market, the financial crisis, and Great Recession that followed — all of which arguably sunk their roots during his tenure — he is still viewed by many as one of the greatest Fed chairs in history.
For that reason, his advice to investors to turn toward gold, usually the position of alarmists and those who already have substantial holdings in gold (populations with substantial overlap) is somewhat unexpected.
For most investors, the job now is to decide whether Greenspan’s position on ending QE and buying gold is actual analysis, or purposeful obfuscation.
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