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Fed plan partly hinges on the wealth effect

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Kai Ryssdal: It’s the 14th of September, the first day of what could be a lifetime of quantitative easing.

OK, that’s probably not the way it’s really gonna go. But Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke did pretty much promise yesterday he’s gonna keep pumping money — liquidity — into the economy until things get a whole lot better. So we begin today with two stories of what that might mean for regular people. First up, from New York, Marketplace’s Mark Garrison and the fallacy of a rising stock market.

Mark Garrison: If you’re already quite rich, congratulations. Rising stock prices are great for you, because the wealthy own a far greater portion of stocks than most Americans.

But investment strategist Ed Yardeni says the rest of the country isn’t getting a lot out of the latest moves.

Ed Yardeni: Honestly for the average individual who doesn’t really have much in the way of an equity portfolio, what the Fed’s been doing just doesn’t seem to be having much of a positive impact on their lives.

Part of the Fed plan hinges on the so-called wealth effect, the theory that if people see their portfolio climb, they’ll open their wallets. There’s plenty of debate about how strong the wealth effect really is. Johns Hopkins adjunct business professor Roger Staiger isn’t sure whether even the rich will spend much more.

Roger Staiger: They may experience some sort of wealth effect on a limited basis, but then they’re still continuing to buy luxury goods. Are they going to purchase an incremental addition to their luxury goods? Probably not.

Gallup polling shows just over half of Americans own some kind of stock, either directly or through their retirement fund. But stock ownership is at its lowest level since 2000. It’s just not as broad as it used to be. Beyond people spending, there’s the hope rising stock prices could get companies to start hiring.

Bill Miles is an economics professor at Wichita State University.

Bill Miles: If a company invests a little more, puts more into equipment, there will be a few more jobs based on that. But basically, the effects on the average person are gonna be quite small.

Small, but not nothing. 401(k)s will rise, though it’ll take a much broader economic recovery to offset the wealth destroyed by the financial crisis.

In New York, I’m Mark Garrison for Marketplace.

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