Hay dos maneras en las que la Reserva Federal contribuyó a la actual crisis financiera. Por un lado, mantuvo tasas de interés artificialmente bajas con lo cual contribuyó a la creación de la burbuja del mercado de bienes raíces, una de las causas fundamentales de la crisis. Al mismo tiempo, el Fed siguió estableció una política que implícitamente garantizaba a los inversionistas que intervendría en caso que los valores de sus activos cayeran. Esta política crea ‘riesgo moral’ (moral hazard) al incentivar a los agentes económicos a invertir en actividades de mayor riesgo que las que normalmente tomarían.

Tasas de interés artificialmente bajas

Una gran variedad de observadores coinciden en que el Fed ha impuesto tasas de interés artificialmente bajas, y que esas tasas han generado burbujas de activos. Por ejemplo, Gerald O’Driscoll cita a Ludwig von Mises y Friedrich Hayek para establecer que la actual política monetaria del Fed, la cual busca estabilizar la medida de ‘inflación base’ (en inglés, ‘core inflation’ – la inflación de bienes de consumo excluyendo energía y comida) resulta en burbujas en los precios de activos tales como la burbuja del Internet de 1998-2000 o la burbuja de los bienes raíces que se inició en el 2002. Driscoll sugiere que es necesario incluir los precios de los bienes raíces en cualquier índice económico a fin de evitar burbujas de activos:

“Ludwig von Mises and Friedrich Hayek argued that stabilizing the prices of final goods would not in any case stabilize economic activity. Hayek argued that in a growing economy, the monetary policy that would stabilize a price index of consumer goods would interfere with the allocation of resources over time. It would do so by forcing interest rates below the level they would otherwise be. The price of long-lived assets, such as capital goods or housing, moves inversely to movements in the relevant interest rates. Lower interest rates translate into higher asset prices, and vice versa.

An implication of the Mises-Hayek view is that stabilizing the prices of final goods and services will generate asset bubbles. The prices of long-lived assets can be artificially raised even though—because—the value of an appropriately chosen index of consumer goods is being stabilized (or there is zero measured price inflation).

(…)

If asset prices are not incorporated into measures of inflation, their movements will not be action-forcing events for policymakers. Fed chairmen will wring their hands about “irrational exuberance” in such markets but be powerless to do anything until the effects of asset price changes are manifested in undesirable changes in current prices and output.” [1]

Garantías implícitas y riesgo moral

Más grave aún, es que en la política monetaria se establezcan garantías implícitas a los inversionistas. Esto ha ocurrido, de hecho, desde que Alan Greenspan indicó que en relación a las burbujas de activos, el Fed no debía prevenir su ocurrencia, pero sí mitigar su impacto cuando revienten. O’Driscoll llama a esta postura “la doctrina Greenspan”. Comenta Driscoll:

“The new moral hazard in financial markets has its source in what can be best described as the Greenspan doctrine. The doctrine was clearly enunciated in a speech by then Fed chairman Alan Greenspan on December 19, 2002. Greenspan made an asymmetric argument leading to an asymmetric monetary policy. He argued that asset bubbles cannot be detected and monetary policy ought not in any case be used to offset them. The collapse of bubbles can be detected, however, and monetary policy ought to be used to offset the fallout. That position came to be known as the Greenspan Put, an option to sell depreciated assets to the Fed.” [2]

En 1999, Gerald Baker escribió en un artículo del Financial Times una crítica a esta postura, señalando que con la misma el Fed está contribuyendo a la creación de riesgo moral:

“The Fed . . . is unwittingly contributing to a form of moral hazard—that it stands by ready to prop up the market if it fails, but will do nothing to stop it going up too high.” [3]

Esta política monetaria ha sido la causante de que los inversionistas tomen riesgo adicional sin la debida compensación en precio. Como lo indica Gerald O’Driscoll:

“Moral hazard is the outcome of explicit or implicit guarantees to investors. At one time, deposit insurance was a major culprit. Today, monetary policy is fostering moral hazard.

Monetary policy can generate moral hazard if it is conducted in a manner that bails investors out of risky and otherwise ill-advised financial commitments. If investors come to expect that the policy will persist, then they will deliberately take on additional risk without demanding commensurately higher returns for that risk. In effect, they will lend at the risk-free interest rate on risky projects, or at least at a lower rate than would otherwise be the case. Too much risky lending and investment will take place. Capital will have been misallocated.” [4]

Referencias:

[1] O’Driscoll, nota previa

[2] O’Driscoll, nota previa

[3] Gerard Baker, reporting on the annual Federal Reserve conference on monetary policy in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, in the Financial Times, August 30, 1999; quoted in Charles Goodhart, “What Weight Should Be Given to Asset Prices in the Measurement
of Inflation?” Netherlands Central Bank DNB Staff Report no. 65 (2001), p. 10. The quotation is a statement of “concerns” by unnamed observers. (note in [3])

[4] O’Driscoll, nota previa

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