What To Expect From A Biden (And Bernie) Fed

Now that Judy Shelton has passed the first big hurdle to be confirmed as a member of the Fed – passing muster with the Senate Banking Committee by a 13-12 party-line vote – let’s assume that the full Senate will confirm her. While it’s not a slam dunk, Republicans do control the chamber by a 53-47 majority, so even if Mitt Romney votes against her, as he says he will, she’s probably in.

Despite what her many detractors believe – that she has the power all by herself to return the U.S. to the gold standard and direct the Fed to do whatever President Trump wants – that probably won’t happen unless Fed chair Jerome Powell resigns or Trump figures out a way to remove him without triggering a massive global financial panic safely. Even then, it’s a fantasy. So Shelton is probably going to be confirmed, and nobody is going to die as a result.

So let’s turn instead to what a Fed under a President Biden might look like. Luckily, the former vice president has publicly revealed what he has in mind, in a short and concise 110-page press release entitled, “Combating the Climate Crisis and Pursuing Environmental Justice,” the product of a “unity task force” set up by Biden, and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, whom I guess wrote most of it. I’ll save you the trouble of pouring through it unless you’re feeling masochistic.

Granted, there’s only a little (fortunately) in the tome that deals with the Fed. Indeed, through the magic of word search, I found that there are only eight references to “Federal Reserve” in the document, but what’s there is enlightening about their thinking. No, there’s nothing in there about Fed monetary policy, I suppose to respect the Fed’s independence. Continue reading "What To Expect From A Biden (And Bernie) Fed"

Why It's Different This Time

The other day I completed a survey for my brokerage company, and one of the questions they asked was, "Is the current crisis worse than the 2008 financial crisis?" A couple of months ago, when our state and region were mostly in lockdown, I would have answered with a resounding and unhesitating, "Yes!"

Now I'm not so sure. Admittedly, I don't live in one of those states where the virus is now spiking, and things here are close to back to normal, so maybe my vantage point is too subjective. Nevertheless, I would have to say this crisis is far from as bad as the previous one, which may explain why the stock market has behaved the way it has, namely prices are off only a little from where they began the crisis, with only that short, sharp drop in February and March.

One reason, of course, is that the economy, as a whole, has rebounded strongly over the past couple of months as most of the country has reopened, at least to some degree, even as millions of people continue to work remotely. But the main reason is that that the lessons we learned from 2008 have been brought to bear in this crisis, namely that the government and the Federal Reserve have thrown much more money and resources at the problem than they did 12 years ago, which has mitigated the damage to a great degree.

As we've seen in the second-quarter earnings reports released so far by the big banks, the measures taken after 2008 to make sure they've built up enough capital to withstand another global crisis have paid off. Other than Wells Fargo (WFC) – which is still in the Fed penalty box, forbidden to grow assets – which reported a big loss, the other big banks reported flat Goldman Sachs (GS) or reduced JPMorgan Chase (JPM), Citigroup (C), and Bank of America (BAC) earnings compared to a year ago. It could have been a lot worse. Who would have thought they'd be able to pull that off three or four months ago? Let's give the Dodd-Frank Act and Fed capital requirements the props they deserve. Continue reading "Why It's Different This Time"

The Fed Is Buying These ETFs - Part 2

In part one of this piece, I pointed out what ETFs the Federal Reserve had purchased as of May 19th. Since then, the Fed has purchased more of these ETFs and began buying corporate bonds directly, not through an ETF.

In this piece, we will look at whether or not you should follow the Fed's footsteps and buy these funds or other bond ETFs, or whether you should find your own path and buy non-bond ETFs in the days, weeks, and months to come.

The first issue with the Fed buying bond ETFs is that the demand for said ETFs likely rose when the Fed was buying. This is simply a supply and demand issue, especially when the bond ETFs wasn't able to issue new shares. Issuing new shares can only be done when the fund was able to purchase more bonds to bundle into its ETF. And since the Fed was dumping large amounts of money into the market in a rather short period of time, the likelihood that these funds where all able to increase their asset bases are not high.

So, the Fed has probably already pushed the price of these ETFs higher than where they would typically be trading. This is not good for new investors. Continue reading "The Fed Is Buying These ETFs - Part 2"

Are We Ready For A Second Wave?

As we know well by now, the financial markets have recovered nicely from the initial wave of the coronavirus, at least until recently. After plunging by a third from its February 19 all-time high through its March 23 bottom, the S&P 500 has rebounded sharply, although it still remains about 10% below its record high. NASDAQ, however, has won back all of what it lost and now is solidly in the green for the year. Bond yields, meanwhile, have largely settled into a relatively narrow range, all of which signals that investors are fairly positive about the future.

Certainly, the most recent economic news has borne out that optimism. Retail sales jumped a record 17.7% in May after plunging 14.7% in April, the first increase in fourth months. Moreover, May sales in dollars were only 7.7% below where they were in February before the worst effects of the virus hit. In other words, after an extraordinary dip, spending is already close to where it was as more stores and restaurants reopen.

Elsewhere, the Conference Board’s index rose a better than expected 2.8% in May after falling 6.1% in April. Sales of newly-built homes jumped 16.6% while the National Association of Home Builders’ confidence index surged 21 points in June to 58. Sales of existing-home sales, by far the largest category, dropped nearly 10% in May, but that “reflected contract signings in March and April, during the strictest times of the pandemic lockdown,” the National Association of Realtors said, adding that “home sales will surely rise in the upcoming months with the economy reopening, and could even surpass one-year-ago figures in the second half of the year.”

While all of that is undoubtedly good news, is it sustainable? Right now, two main questions are facing the economy and the financial markets: How bad will a dreaded “second wave” of the virus be on both the nation’s health and economy and what happens now that the U.S. government’s stimulus programs have started to run out? Continue reading "Are We Ready For A Second Wave?"

The Fed Is Buying These ETFs And Why It Matters (Part 1)

The Federal Reserve is doing everything it can right now to help prop up the US economy and minimize the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has on the economy, including purchasing ETFs.. The Fed has, by almost all market participants' views, acted very quickly, very aggressively, and rather decisively in their attempt to limit both the short and long-term effects this pandemic has on the US economy, despite the country permanently shutting down for nearly two months.

The first move by the Fed was to reduce interest rates by lowering the Federal Funds rate. Then, they began buying Treasury Bonds and mortgage-backed securities, (they have of course performed a number of other 'lending' type activities that have lower rates for lending and made it easier for more money to flow into the system, but for the average person knowing that the Fed lowered interest rates and started buying Treasury bonds and mortgage-backed securities, that is really the gist of it. To read more about the exact things they have done, check this article out.) Both these moves the Fed has done in the past, so no surprise there when they announced their plans.

However, in an attempt to pump liquidity back into the market, maintain low-interest rates, give business leaders and consumers the confidence they need to continue spending the Fed is now also buying Exchange Traded Funds.

Why are they buying ETFs and not something else? Continue reading "The Fed Is Buying These ETFs And Why It Matters (Part 1)"