Posts Tagged ‘Quantitative Easing’

The QE Apocalypse

Friday, July 11th, 2014

The end is near.

The Federal Reserve Board has now put a date on the quantitative easing apocalypse, letting us know that bond buying will end in October – unless the central bank changes its mind, of course.

The October ending is not unexpected.  The Fed has been cutting back bond purchases by $10 billion a month since last year and it doesn’t take a math wizard to figure out that there will be nothing left to taper post-October.

Yet this news, reported in the just-released minutes to last month’s meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee, is being treated as a revelation.  It was, for example, the lead story in The Wall Street Journal, which typically doesn’t lead with news that was discussed last year and made official at a meeting that took place a month ago. Portugal

The real news, though, is what wasn’t discussed – the end of near-zero interest rates.  As a result, rather than pushing yields up and bond prices down, release of the meeting minutes had the opposite impact.

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Sprinkling the Fairy Dust of Illusory Riches

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

When the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) calls central bank market rigging “the fairy dust of illusory riches,” it’s time to pay attention.

The BIS is the central banks’ central bank.  Its role is “to serve central banks in their pursuit of monetary and financial stability, to foster international cooperation in those areas and to act as a bank for central banks.”

To provide the statement with some context, and to alert you about what else you can expect from central banks moving forward, we provide a summary of other key points made in this year’s BIS annual report, which is appropriately titled, “In Search of a New Compass.”Compass

First, there’s recognition that easy money policy has gone far enough.  That’s self-evident, but of special interest when you consider the source.  BIS notes that despite a pickup in economic growth, the world economy “has not shaken off its dependence on monetary stimulus.  Monetary policy is still struggling to normalize after so many years of extraordinary accommodation.”

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Prozac Nation

Friday, June 27th, 2014

It’s all stress-free bliss these days … at least for anyone who’s not paying attention.

Has someone been putting anti-depressants in the water supply?  That’s one way to explain Wednesday’s non-reaction to the report that the economy shrank by 2.9% in the first quarter – not the 1% drop previously reported.

It would also explain continued investor complacency reported last week, with the VIX (volatility index) approaching single digits.  And it would explain the plunge in junk bond yields to 5.6%, which is a full 3.4% points lower than the decade-long average of 9%.

GDP GrowthYet investors showed that they still have a pulse, when they took the Dow down 100 points after James Bullard, president of the St. Louis Federal Reserve, announced that an interest rate hike may take place in the first quarter of 2015.

So consider this in context.  In addition to the slumping economy, we have Russia’s continued takeover of Ukraine, which is now being overshadowed by the continued takeover of Iraq by Muslim terrorists known as ISIS and the possibility of U.S. military intervention.  We have civil war continuing in Syria and continued nuclear development in Iran, in spite of the lifting of sanctions.  We have U.S. veterans in need of medical treatment being ignored while the Veterans Administration fudges numbers.  We have the missing e-mails of Lois Lerner and six other IRS employees who allegedly targeted conservative groups.  We have continuing fallout in the healthcare industry from the pains of implementing Obamacare.  We have a stock market so overblown that price-to-earnings ratios are at levels higher than they’ve been through 89% of the history of the S&P 500.

So what’s moving the market?  A statement made by a Fed board member that repeats a statement he previously made.

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The Market’s Missing Mojo

Friday, June 20th, 2014

Easy money policy has its share of side effects.  The stock market continues to hit new highs, thanks to the Fed, but the level of risk that investors and taxpayers are exposed to also may be close to new highs.

The market for U.S. Treasuries, as one example, is a “risk on” market.  As Bloomberg put it, “Just because U.S. Treasuries look more and more stable doesn’t mean they are.”

Some may mistake a lack of volatility for low risk, but the lack of volatility appears to be the result of less liquidity, not lower risk, as the Fed has purchased trillions of dollars in bonds and banks are pulling back from debt trading. Bubble PE_0

Before the financial crisis, lower volatility resulted in more trading, but in this case trading volume has dropped.

“What’s happening instead,” Bloomberg reported, “is unprecedented central-bank stimulus has sent everyone into the same risk-on bets, while it’s also becoming more difficult to trade as banks shore up their balance sheets in the face of new regulations.”

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Translating Fedspeak

Friday, March 21st, 2014

While the week’s biggest news has taken place in Russia, Ukraine and China, it’s the news out of the Federal Reserve Board’s Federal Open Market Committee that’s most in need of translation.

The Fed regularly uses language that no one understands, because if America’s taxpayers really knew what’s been happening, they’d totally freak.  Keep that in mind and proceed with caution as we attempt a translation of Fedspeak from new Chair Janet Yellen’s first press conference:

“ … the FOMC’s outlook for continued progress toward our goals of maximum employment and inflation returning to two percent remains broadly unchanged.”

The dots are moving and we’re not achieving the results we expected, but you won’t hear it from me. Yellen 2

“Unusually harsh weather in January and February has made assessing the underlying strength of the economy especially challenging.”

The economy still stinks, but we’re going to blame it on the weather.

The unemployment rate, at 6.7 percent, is three‐tenths lower than the data available at the time of the December meeting.  Further, broader measures of unemployment such as the U6 measure, which includes marginally attached workers and those working part‐time, but preferring full‐time work, have fallen even more than the headline unemployment rate over this period.  And labor force participation has ticked up.

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Mission Not-Quite Accomplished

Wednesday, February 26th, 2014

Remember when the announced goal of quantitative easing (QE) was to reduce the unemployment rate to 6.5%?

It’s now 6.6% and heading down.  So can we expect QE to finally end?MW-BS355_CIVPAR_20140110090655_MG

Not really.  While new Fed Czar Janet Yellen talks about continuing tapering, many believe that tapering will stop and some believe she may reverse direction and increase the rate of bond buying.  Even if The Fed continues to cut back bond purchases by $10 billion a month, it will still take more than six months for QE to end.  Minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee’s January meeting, which were released this week, suggest that the final taper would take place in October 2014.

More specifically, the minutes say, “Several participants argued that, in the absence of appreciable change in the economic outlook, there should be a clear presumption in favor of continuing to reduce the pace of purchases by a total of $10 billion at each FOMC meeting.  That said, a number of participants noted that if the economy deviated substantially from its expected path, the Committee should be prepared to respond with an appropriate adjustment to the trajectory of its purchases.”

Tapering aside, does anyone really think the unemployment rate is really decreasing?

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The Neverending Story

Thursday, February 13th, 2014

Why change?

It’s been more than five years since The Federal Reserve Board began its quantitative easing program.  We’ve had QE, QE 2, Operation Twist and the never-ending QE 3.  The Fed’s portfolio of bonds exceeds $4 trillion and it now owns more than a third of all bonds issued by the U.S. government.

The net result of this never-before attempted experiment in easy money policy has been a still slumping job market, growth around 2% vs. a non-QE average of 3.3% and a drop in personal income of 4.7% since the “recovery” began.  At least there hasn’t been any deflation.

Yet new Fed Chair Janet Yellen announced this week that she’s “staying the course,” continuing QE maybe forever.  Although she said she plans to continue tapering, too, she added that the bond buying program is “not on a preset course,” so perhaps The Fed may taper its tapering, creating an untapering by buying even more bonds.

After all, $65 billion a month doesn’t buy what it used to, even with today’s low rate of inflation.

The market reacted positively, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average jumping nearly 200 points.  Once again, just as it looked like the market was reacting to real business conditions, the Queen of QE proved that the market is still firmly under the Fed’s control.

What Ceiling?

Remember “The Neverending Story?”  The book, which was made into a movie, takes place in a fantasyland, in which a dark entity called “The Nothing” threatens to consume everything.  In the neverending story of QE, “The Nothing” could be The Fed itself, consuming every bond in sight, or the federal government, consuming everything and casting a pall of new regulations that threaten job growth and recovery.

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No Records This Month

Friday, January 17th, 2014

Markets go up and markets go down, so maybe it’s not surprising that January’s stock market performance has less exuberance to it than the performance to which we’ve become accustomed.

As of yesterday’s market close, the S&P 500 was down 0.13% year to date, which is not a big deal, especially considering that the S&P 500 Index finished 2013 up 32.4%.  Even with the recent downward trend, the S&P 500 is up 25.35% for the past 12-month period.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has been a bit creakier, down 0.96% year to date, but still up 21.51% for the past year.

It’s doubtful, then, that the markets will break any records this month.  But if you believe the hype, good things are headed our way.  The unemployment rate has slimmed down to 6.7%, gross domestic product (GDP) was revised upward to 3.6% for the third quarter of 2013 and, with Janet Yellen’s appointment to head the Federal Reserve Board, quantitative easing can continue ad nausem.

So why worry?

To begin with, as we explained last week, the falling unemployment rate is an illusion.  The rate dropped only because so many people have stopped looking for work.  The number of non-working Americans exceeds 102 million, which is a record.

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Some Recovery

Friday, January 10th, 2014

The government’s stimulus programs are not working and neither are a growing number of Americans.

In October, we noted that the number of Americans not working exceeded 101 million, setting a record.  But records are made to be broken and the number today is even higher – even while the official unemployment rate continues to drop.

When we wrote in October, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that 90,609,000 Americans who are 16 or older were neither working nor looking for work.  Since then, the number has increased to 91,808,000.

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But that number doesn’t include unemployed Americans who are looking for work, which was 10.4 million in December, bringing the total number of Americans who are not working up to more than 102 million.  That’s an addition of nearly 1 million since October … during what has widely been viewed as a period of economic recovery.

The civilian labor force fell from 155.3 million to 154.9 million in December, bringing the labor participation rate down from 63.0% to a 35-year low of 62.8%.

While the BLS expected 197,000 jobs to be created in December, only 74,000 jobs were created.  That’s a miss of more than 100,000 jobs.  The BLS says inclement weather affected the number of forced part-time jobs being created.  “Forced part-time” jobs are those where a former marketing manager who has been out of work for two years runs out of money and takes a position working the deep fryer at Wendy’s because there are no other options.

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Bully for 2013 … But What About 2014?

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

2013 markets were full of bull.

The economy continued to sputter along, growing at about 2%, unemployment remained high and corporate profits were mediocre.  Yet the S&P 500 index rose a staggering 29.6%, its best performance since the go-go-days of 1997.

So what sort of bull drove this bull market?  The Federal Reserve Board’s quantitative easing (QE) program, high-frequency trading and exuberant investors who shifted into stocks with renewed confidence.

Investors Intelligence SurveyWhen Fed Chair Ben Bernanke hinted in May and June that The Fed might start pulling back on its bond buying soon, the market initially fell and interest rates rose.  But ironically, rising rates drove investors out of bonds and many invested further in stocks, pushing the market even higher.

More Bull in 2014?

As 2014 begins, the bullish sentiment continues.  More than 60% of those surveyed by Investors Intelligence are now bullish and the bull-bear ratio is at a record level of more than four.

Bullish sentiment at this level is typically a good thing, though, as high investor enthusiasm typically leads to a drop in the market.  When investors are at their most bullish, that’s when the stock market usually drops.

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