Put The Blame On Me

At least since the global financial crisis of 2008, Federal Reserve officials have, by and large, denied or downplayed the idea that their zero-interest-rate policies and mammoth bond purchases have artificially inflated financial assets even as the Fed is buying trillions – with a capital T – of U.S. Treasury and mortgage-backed securities markets and more recently corporate bonds. Now the presidents of a few of the Fed’s regional banks are suggesting that the Fed study whether its monetary policies are encouraging overly risky investor behavior.

Loretta Mester, the president of the Cleveland Fed, conceded that prolonged periods of low rates could incite “higher levels of borrowing and financial leverage, increased valuation pressures, and search-for-yield behavior.”

“While monetary policy that leads to a stable macroeconomy encourages financial stability, it is also possible that in an environment with low neutral rates, a persistently accommodative monetary policy could, in some cases, increase the vulnerabilities of the financial system,” she said.

Boston Fed President Eric Rosengren went even further, suggesting that the Fed “rethink” financial regulation – but apparently not monetary policy – to rein in speculative behavior. Continue reading "Put The Blame On Me"

Disconnect? What Disconnect?

Over the past few weeks, the financial news media has been marveling at what it calls the “disconnect” between stock prices and the economy. Economic and health statistics are likely to go from bad – 30 million unemployed in the past month, a 4.8% drop in first-quarter GDP, an 8.7% drop in retail sales in April, more reported coronavirus cases and deaths – to worse – a nearly 40% drop in GDP and around 15% unemployment in the second quarter, according to the Congressional Budget Office’s latest projections. Yet the stock market has blissfully regained about half of the 34% drop it sustained between mid-February and mid-March.

But is there really a disconnect? Does the economy – now largely controlled by the Federal Reserve and the U.S. Treasury Department – still have any correlation to what happens in the stock market anymore, and vice versa? Well, the answer is yes, but not in the way it used to. What’s happening is that as the economy goes deeper into the red, the more it prompts the government to pump in more money and for the Fed to intervene more in the financial markets. That is unquestionably good for stocks.

We have been in an environment since the 2008 financial crisis where the Fed has played an unprecedented activist role in the bond market and, indirectly, the stock market. That role has grown further under Chair Jerome Powell, who seems to believe it’s the Fed’s job to rescue equity investors any time stock prices correct, never mind what’s going on in the economy. Now that we’re in the middle of an economic downturn that makes 2008 look like a garden-variety recession, the Fed has put its monetary policy and quantitative-easing engines into Continue reading "Disconnect? What Disconnect?"

Will The Fed Buy Stocks Next?

Since he became Federal Reserve Chair two years ago, Jerome Powell has created a new mandate for the Fed above and beyond its “dual” Congressional mandate to “promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates” (that’s federal government math for you).

Powell has added putting a floor under stock prices, which usually has come to mean when the market reaches correction territory (i.e., prices fall by about 10%). When stocks reach that threshold, count on the Fed to cut interest rates or loosen monetary policy in order to restore order and investor confidence. So far in his tenure, the Powell Fed has been pretty successful in that regard. Even when overall economic conditions (GDP growth and unemployment) provide no justification for lowering rates, the Fed has stepped in to prop up the market.

Now, however, the current panic selling over the coronavirus has tested the Fed’s ability to wave its magic wand and restore peace to the market. As we know, the Fed’s recent decision to make an emergency 50 basis-point cut in the federal funds rate three weeks before its next scheduled meeting proved to be a dud. Investor confidence has now been so spooked by the uncertainty created by the virus that the rate cut caused barely a blip, and stock prices continued to tank.

Moreover, despite the market begging for the Fed to cut rates, Powell only opened himself up to criticism for actually delivering. The cut was either too small, some critics said, or a cut would have no effect in such a situation, so why bother doing it, others said. Yet the market consensus now seems to believe that another 50 basis-point cut is already baked in the cake when the Fed meets on March 17-18. But market anxiety being what it is, there’s no assurance that that will have any effect, either.

Already, many so-called experts are calling for some form of fiscal stimulus, as opposed to monetary stimulus, such as a Continue reading "Will The Fed Buy Stocks Next?"

U.S. 10-Year Yield: It's Not "If" But "When"

Life is full of surprises as we never know what could happen next, and it is the true phenomenon of our existence. Last time I shared my thoughts about the U.S. 10-year yield (10Y) in September of 2018 calling for a rise to 3.33% and more. JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon warned that time to be prepared for a 5% 10-year yield. Let’s take a look a what you thought then.

10-Year Yield

Most of you agreed with JPM’s CEO and hit the 5% option. The atmosphere then was so elevated that it was easy to believe that the rates would keep rising. Indeed, the market went higher but stopped at the 3.26% mark, and that was it. The least favored target of 3.33% appeared to be the closest call.

The precious metals’ posts schedule was busy here on the blog at the end of last year, so I posted my call at tradingview.com for 10-year yield to drop to tag the previous low of 1.34% on November 14th of 2019. Below is the chart of that post. Continue reading "U.S. 10-Year Yield: It's Not "If" But "When""

The Fed's Newest Service: Portfolio Insurance

Every generation believes that they know more than the previous generation. Then, as they get older, they slowly start to realize that their elders aren’t as dumb as they thought. It's normal.

What's different today is that we seem to think, or at least many people do, that not only are we wiser today than everyone who has come before us but that humankind has been doing everything wrong for the past 5,000 years or so of civilization. Whether it's morally wrong to eat meat, or how many genders there are, or who can marry who, or whatever, it seems that we've been misguided since the beginning of time.

This attitude also manifests itself in the economic sphere. Based on the Federal Reserve’s recent actions, they appear to believe that everything we knew or thought we knew about economic cycles and bull and bear markets has been all wrong. Thousands of years of boom and bust cycles could have been eliminated, apparently, if only the proper monetary policy fixes had been applied.

Quite clearly, the Fed’s new mandate is that if economic growth starts to sputter, or the stock market moves beyond a correction, or some international crisis – Brexit, Megxit, Iran, North Korea, trade wars, you name it – threatens to upset the applecart, it will immediately turn its monetary policy tools into high gear.

Before now, economic growth and stock prices were pretty much allowed to take their own course, with some attempts to smooth out the worst excesses. It was considered to be both normal and healthy for markets and economies to go up and down periodically, as long as the general trend was upward. Now, however, that appears to be not only quaint, old-fashioned thinking but just plain wrong. There is no reason, the thinking goes, for us to suffer any economic pain as long as we have the policy tools to avoid it. Continue reading "The Fed's Newest Service: Portfolio Insurance"