Rex Nutting: Time for Fed to disprove PPT conspiracy theory

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By Rex Nutting
MarketWatch.com
Tuesday, January 5, 2010

http://www.marketwatch.com/story/time-for-fed-to-disprove-ppt-conspiracy...

WASHINGTON -- The massive stock-market rally in the past nine months is mostly due to secret government buying of stock-index futures, a respected stock-market analyst said Tuesday.

Charles Biderman, chief executive of TrimTabs Investment Research, is the latest and most credible person to charge that the Federal Reserve and the Treasury (in league with top Wall Street firms) is rigging the stock market on a daily basis.

In a special report released Tuesday, Biderman said the $6 trillion increase in U.S. stock-market capitalization since March can't be explained by the usual sources of funds flowing into the market -- such as mutual funds, direct retail investment, pension funds, hedge funds, or foreign purchases.

(Read more about Biderman's theory: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/fund-flows-firm-suggests-government-bou...)

The only logical explanation for the extent of the rally, he suggested, is secret buying by a government committee known colloquially as the Plunge Protection Team. It's like the dark matter that astrophysicists conjecture must be there even if we can't detect it.

The PPT was established by President Ronald Reagan in 1988 after the 1987 stock crash to coordinate the government's response to market meltdowns. It consists of the Fed chairman, the Treasury secretary, the head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the head of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission.

Biderman acknowledged that he had no direct evidence that the Fed and other agencies have intervened in the stock market. But he worried about what will happen to the market if the PPT has been buying and suddenly stops.

The Fed, of course, is a major player in the fixed-income markets, buying and selling billions in Treasurys, agency bonds and mortgage-backed securities. It's taken on hundreds of billions in assets from Bear Stearns, American International Group Inc., and many unnamed banks to which it has lent money. Presumably, all of those positions are duly reported by the central bank each week.

But the Fed has never said it is buying equities or equity futures. Doing so would likely violate the Federal Reserve's investment policies, and could violate federal law if not disclosed properly.

Aside from the legal issues, the PPT would have operational constraints. It's hard to believe that the Fed could keep such a conspiracy a secret for 20 years or more. An operation big enough to manipulate markets for months on end would be big enough to develop leaks.

With so much money at stake, anyone with direct knowledge of the conspiracy (such as a $30,000-a-year administrative aide) would be highly tempted to blow the whistle.

Yet Biderman's accusation of PPT market manipulation is another argument in favor of a complete public audit of the Fed's books. As any casual reader of this site's community boards knows, there is a widespread belief that the PPT does manipulate stock prices on a daily basis to enrich its pals and screw individual investors.

It would be useful to prove them wrong. And if they are right, the PPT should be put out of business.

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Rex Nutting is Washington bureau chief for MarketWatch.com.

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