March 12, 2013

El-Erian Calls Fed ‘Oz, the Great and Powerful’

PIMCO CEO compares Bernanke to humble yet effective wizard

Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of PIMCO. (Photo: AP) Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of PIMCO. (Photo: AP)

Maybe we should pay attention to the man behind the curtain.

The PIMCO leadership is known for employing pop-culture references to describe complicated subjects, and Mohamed El-Erian doesn’t disappoint in his latest missive.

Likening the great and powerful Fed to “Oz, the Great and Powerful,” El-Erian compares the limited tools yet expansive creativity Bernanke & Co. employ to that of the humble wizard. In the just-released movie, Oz is able to rally the denizens of the dreamscape to defeat two evil witches (with the acknowledgment that they remain dangerous and will likely one day return).

“In today's economy, the role of the wizard is being played by the Federal Reserve Bank,” El-Erian writes in a blog posted to The Exchange. “Facing a difficult economic situation, made worse by the inaction of a bickering Congress and essentially paralyzed government agencies, the Fed has found itself forced to take on the role of savior. And since its massive emergency interventions in 2008, it has felt a moral obligation to stay engaged, a role which, over time, it seems to have pursued more willingly.”

In trying to do good, he continues, the Fed has confronted more than the considerable dark forces of disorderly economic and financial deleveraging. It has also had to overcome the (not-so-occasional) headwinds from a disruptive Congress and a Europe unable to decisively overcome a regional debt crisis, he notes.

“Also, similar to the wizard, the Fed has had limited tools at its disposal. Unable to get to the heart of the economic dislocations and disruptions, it has shrewdly adapted imperfect tools that have been only known to work in more controlled environments. Their success depends on getting the collective to believe.”

El-Erian rhetorically asks: how do we click our heels for a happy ending?

The Fed has registered some encouraging successes recently, he says. Data releases, including Friday's jobs report, confirm “that a growing number of segments in the U.S. economy are healing.”

“Having seen the stock market surge through its previous record, more and more people believe that the Fed will be able to deliver a much better macroeconomic outcome, and do so despite congressional dysfunction that continues to create avoidable headwinds.”

But don’t celebrate the witches' defeat just yet, he concedes. In an appeal designed to rally the citizens, he notes that, “Like the wizard, the Fed needs crucial help at a critical time.”

“Some are hoping that the economic equivalent of Glinda could come in the form of a robustly expanding China and/or a stabilized Europe. Personally, I doubt that an external factor would do it. Rather, the catalyst needs to—and can/should—come from within the United States.”

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Read PIMCO’s El-Erian: 3 Reasons for Stock Market Sustainability by John Sullivan on AdvisorOne.

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