Posts tagged ‘Fed Funds’

Glass Half Empty Becomes Record Glass Half Full

Oh my! What a difference a few months makes. Originally, what looked like an economic glass half empty in December has turned into a new record glass half full. What looked like Armageddon in December has turned into a v-shaped bed of roses to new all-time record stock market highs for the S&P 500 index (see chart below). For the recent month, the S&P 500 climbed another +3.9% to 2,945, bringing total 2019 gains to an impressive +17.5% advance. Before you get too excited, it’s worth noting stocks were down in value during 2018. When you combine 2018-2019, appreciation over the last 16 months equates to a more modest +10.2% expansion. Worth noting, since the end of 2017, profits have climbed by more than +20%, which means stocks are cheaper today as measured by Price-Earnings ratios (P/E) than two years ago (despite the historic, record levels). For any confused investors, we can revisit this topic for discussion in a future writing.

Source: Trading Economics

From Famine to Feast

As I noted in my “December to Remember” article, there were no shortage of concerns ranging from impeachment to Brexit. How do those concerns look now? Let’s take a look:

Government Shutdown: The longest government shutdown in history (35 days) ended on January 25, 2019 with minimal broad-based economic damage.

Global Trade (China): Rhetoric coming from President Trump and his administration regarding a trade deal resolution with China has been rather optimistic. In fact, a CNBC survey shows 77% of respondents believe that the U.S. and China will complete a trade deal.

Federal Reserve Interest Rate Policy: After consistently increasing interest rates nine times since the end of 2015 until late 2018, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell signaled he was effectively taking monetary policy off rate-hiking “autopilot” and would in turn become “patient” as it relates to increasing future interest rates. Interestingly, traders are now forecasting a 70% chance of a rate cut before January 29, 2020.

Mueller Investigation: Special counsel Robert Mueller released his widely anticipated report that investigated Russian collusion and obstruction allegations by the president and his administration. In Mueller’s 22-month report he could “not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” As it relates to obstruction, Mueller effectively stated the president attempted to obstruct justice but was not successful in achieving that goal. Regardless of your political views, uncertainty surrounding this issue has been mitigated.

New Balance of Power in Congress: Democrats took Congressional control of the House of Representatives and reintroduced gridlock. But followers of mine understand gridlock is not necessarily a bad thing.

Brexit Deal Uncertainty: After years of negotiations for Britain to exit the European Union (EU), the impending Brexit deadline of March 29th came and went. EU an UK leaders have now agreed to  extend the deadline to October 31st, thereby delaying any potential negative impact from a hard UK exit from the EU.

Recession Fears: Fears of a fourth quarter global slowdown that would bleed to a recession on U.S. soil appear to have been laid to bed. The recently reported first quarter economic growth (Gross Domestic Product – GDP) figures came in at a healthy+3.2% annualized growth rate, up from fourth quarter growth of +2.2%, and above consensus forecasts of 2.0%.

Curve Concern

The other debate swirling around the investment community this month was the terrifying but wonky “inverted yield curve.” What is an inverted yield curve? This is a financial phenomenon, when interest rate yields on long-term bonds are lower than interest rate yields on short-term bonds. Essentially when these dynamics are in place, bond investors are predicting slower economic activity in the future (i.e., recession). The lower future rates effectively act as a way to stimulate prospective growth amid expected weak economic activity. Furthermore, lower future rates are a symptom of stronger demand for longer-term bonds. It’s counterintuitive for some, but higher long-term bond prices result in lower long-term bond interest rate yields. If this doesn’t make sense,  please read this. Why is all this inverted yield curve stuff important? From World War II, history has informed us that whenever this phenomenon has occurred, it has been a great predictor for a looming recession.

As you can see from the chart below, whenever the yield curve (red line) inverts (goes below zero), you can see that a recession (gray vertical bar) occurs shortly thereafter. In other words, an inverted yield curve historically has been a great way to predict recessions, which normally is almost an impossible endeavor – even for economists, strategists, and investment professionals.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Although the curve inverted recently (red line below 0), you can see from the chart, historically recessions (gray vertical bars) have occurred only when inflation-adjusted interest rates (blue line) have climbed above 2%. Well, the data clearly shows inflation-adjusted interest rates are still well below 1%, therefore an impending recession may not occur too soon. Time will tell if these historical relationships will hold, but rest assured this is a dynamic I will be following closely.

It has been a crazy 6-9 months in the stock market with price swings moving 20% in both directions (+/-), but it has become increasingly clear that a multitude of 2018 fears causing the glass to appear half empty have now abated. So long as economic growth continues at a healthy clip, corporate profits expand to (remain at) record levels, and the previously mentioned concerns don’t spiral out of control, then investors can credibly justify these record levels…as they peer into a glass half full.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (May 1, 2019). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

May 2, 2019 at 12:59 am Leave a comment

Helicopter Ben to QE3 Rescue

Faster than a speedy credit default swap, more powerful than a federal funds interest rate cut, and able to leap a tall Mario Draghi in a single bound, look…it’s Helicopter Ben! How did Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke become a monetary superhero with such a cool nickname as Helicopter Ben (a.k.a. “HB”)? Bernanke, a former Princeton University professor, has widely been known to be a diligent student of the Great Depression, and his aviation nickname stems from a 2002 speech in which he referenced dropping money from a helicopter to combat deflation. While investors may worry about HB’s ability to fight the inflation thugs, there should be no questions about his willingness to implement accommodative, deflation-fighting monetary policies.

Chairman Bernanke may not epitomize your ideal superhero, however this slightly past middle-aged bearded and balding man has helped mastermind some of the most creative and aggressive monetary rescue efforts our country and globe has seen in the history of man (and woman). This week’s money-printing QE3 announcement solidified Bernanke’s historic capital saturating ranking.

Since Helicopter Ben’s heroic appointment as Federal Reserve Chairman in 2006 by George W. Bush, Bernanke has instituted numerous monetary gadgets in hopes of meeting the Federal Reserve’s dual mandate, which is i) to achieve low inflation and ii) to strive for maximum employment. Arguably, given the anemic growth here in the U.S.; the recession in Europe; and slowing growth in the emerging markets (i.e., China, Brazil, India, etc.), slack in the economy and static labor wages have largely kept inflation in check. With the first part of the dual mandate met, Bernanke has had no problem putting his monetary superpowers to work.

As referenced earlier, Bernanke’s bazooka launch of QE3, an open ended MBS (Mortgage Back Securities) bond binging program, will add $40 billion of newly purchased assets to the Fed’s balance sheet on a monthly basis until the labor market improves “substantially” (whatever that means). What’s more, in addition to the indefinite QE3, Bernanke has promised to keep the federal funds rate near zero “at least through mid-2015,” even for a “considerable time after the economic recovery strengthens.”

HB’s Track Record

Throughout superhero history, Superman, Spider-man, and Batman have used a wide-array of superhuman powers, extraordinary gadgets, and superior intellect to conquer evil-doers and injustices across the globe. Bernanke has also forcefully put his unrivaled money-printing talents to work in an attempt to cure the financial ills of the world. Here’s a quick multi-year overview of how Bernanke has put his unique talents to print trillions of dollars and keep interest rates suppressed:

Rate Cuts (September 2007 – December 2008): Before “quantitative easing” was a part of our common vernacular, the Fed relied on more traditional monetary policies, such as federal funds rate targeting, conducted through purchases and sales of open market securities. Few investors recall, but before HB’s fed funds rate cut rampage of 10 consecutive reductions in 2007 and 2008 (the fed funds rate went from 5.25% to effectively 0%), Bernanke actually increased rates three times in 2006.

Crisis Actions (2007 – 2009): Love him or hate him, Bernanke has been a brave and busy soul in dealing with the massive proportions of the global financial crisis. If you don’t believe me, just check out the Financial Crisis Timeline listed at the St. Louis Federal Reserve. Many investors don’t remember, but Bernanke helped orchestrate some of the largest and most unprecedented corporate actions in our history, including the $30 billion loan to JPMorgan Chase (JPM) in the Bear Stearns takeover; the $182 billion bailout of AIG; the conversion of Morgan Stanley (MS) and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) into bank holding companies; and the loan/asset-purchase support to Fannie Mae (FNMA) and Freddie Mac (FMCC). These actions represented just the tip of the iceberg, if you also consider the deluge of liquidity actions taken by the Fed Chairman.

HB Creates Acronym Soup

In order to provide a flavor of the vastness in emergency programs launched since the crisis, here is an alphabet soup of program acronyms into which the Fed poured hundreds of billions of dollars:

  • Term Asset-Backed Securities Loan Facility (TALF)
  • Term Auction Facility (TAF)
  • Money Market Investor Funding Facility (MMIFF)
  • Commercial Paper Funding Facility (CPFF)
  • Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF)
  • Asset-Backed Commercial Paper Money Market Fund Liquidity Facility (AMLF)
  • Temporary Reciprocal Currency Arrangements (Swap lines)
  • Term Securities Lending Facility (TSLF)

Plenty of acronyms to go around, but these juicy programs have garnered most of investors’ attention:

QE1 (November 2008 – March 2010): In hopes of lowering interest rates for borrowers and stimulating the economy, HB spearheaded the Fed’s multi-step, $1 trillion+ buying program  of MBS (mortgage backed securities) and Treasuries.

QE2 (November 2010 – June 2011): Since the Fed felt QE1 didn’t pack enough monetary punch to keep the economy growing at a fast enough clip, the FOMC (Federal Open Market committee) announced its decision to expand its holdings of securities in November 2010. The Committee maintained its existing policy of reinvesting principal payments from its securities holdings and to also purchase a further $600 billion of longer-term Treasury securities by the end of the second quarter of 2011 (an equivalent pace of about $75 billion per month).

Operation Twist (September 2011 – December 2012): What started out as a $400 billion short-term debt for longer-term debt swap program in September 2011, expanded to a $667 billion program in June 2012. With short-term rates excessively low, Bernanke came up with this Operation Twist scheme previously used in the early 1960s. Designed to flatten the yield curve (bring down long-term interest rates) to stimulate economic activity, Bernanke thought this program was worth another go-around. Unlike quantitative easing, Operation Twist does not expand the Fed’s balance sheet – the program merely swaps short-term securities for long-term securities. Currently, the program is forecasted to conclude at the end of this year.

The Verdict on HB

So what’s my verdict on the continuous number of unprecedented actions that Helicopter Ben and the Fed have taken? Well for starters, I have to give Mr. Bernanke an “A-” on his overall handling of the financial crisis. Had his extreme actions not been taken, the pain and agony experienced by all would likely be significantly worse, and the financial hole a lot deeper.

With that said, am I happy about the announcement of QE3 and the explosion in the Fed’s money printing activities? The short answer is “NO”. It’s difficult to support a program with questionable short-run interest rate benefits, when the menacing inflationary pressures are likely to outweigh the advantages. The larger problem in my mind is the massive fiscal problem we are experiencing (over $16 trillion in debt and endless trillion dollar deficits). More importantly, this bloated fiscal position is creating an overarching, nagging crisis of confidence. A resolution to the so-called “fiscal cliff,” or the automated $600 billion in tax increases and spending cuts, is likely to have a more positive impact on confidence than a 0.05% – 0.25% reduction in mortgage rates from QE3. Once adequate and sustained growth returns, and inflation rears its ugly head, how quickly Helicopter Ben tightens policy will be his key test.

Until then, Bernanke will probably continue flying around while gloating in his QE3 cape, hoping his quantitative easing program will raise general confidence. Unfortunately, his more recent monetary policies appear to be creating diminishing returns. Even before QE3’s implementation, Helicopter Ben has witnessed his policies expand the Fed’s balance sheet from less than $900 billion at the beginning of the recession to almost $3 trillion today. Despite these gargantuan efforts, growth and confidence have been crawling forward at only a modest pace.

No matter the outcome of QE3, as long as Ben Bernanke remains Federal Reserve Chairman, and growth remains sluggish, you can stay confident this financial man of steel will continue dumping money into the system from his helicopter. If Bernanke wants to create a true legendary superhero ending to this story, the kryptonite-like effects of inflation need to be avoided. This means, less money-printing and more convincing of Congress to take action on our out-of-control debt and deficits. Now, that’s a comic book I’d pay to read.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct positions in JPM, AIG, MS, GS, FNMA, FMCC,  or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

September 16, 2012 at 5:46 pm 1 comment

Fed Ponders New Surgical Tool

The Fed is closely monitoring the recovering patient (the U.S. economy) after providing a massive dose of monetary stimulus. The patient is feeling numb from the prescription, but if the Fed is not careful in weaning the subject off the medicine (dangerously low Federal Funds rate), dangerous side- effects such as a brand new bubble, rampant inflation, or a collapsing dollar could ensue.

In preparing for the inevitable pain of the Federal Reserve’s “exit strategy,” the institution is contemplating the use of a new tool – interest rates paid to banks on excess reserves held at the Fed. A likely by-product of any deposit-based rate increase will be higher rates charged on consumer loans.

Currently, the Federal Reserve primarily controls the targeted Federal funds rate (the rate at which banks make short-term loans to each other) through open market operations, such as the buying and selling of government securities. Specifically, repurchase agreements made between the Federal Reserve and banks are a common strategy used to control the supply and demand of money, thereby meeting the Fed’s interest rate objective.

Source: Data from Federal Reserve Bank via Wikipedia

Although a relatively new tool created from a 2006 law, paying interest on excess reserves can help in stabilizing the Federal Funds rate when the system is awash in cash – the Fed currently holds over $1 trillion in excess reserves. Failure to meet the inevitably higher Fed Funds target is a major reason policymakers are contemplating the new tool. The Fed started paying interest rates on reserves, presently 0.25%, in the midst of the financial crisis in late 2008. Rate policy implementation based on excess reserves would build a stable floor for Federal Funds rate since banks are unlikely to lend to each other below the set Fed rate. The excess reserve rate-setting tool, although a novel one for the United States, is used by many foreign central banks.

Watching the Fed

While the Fed discusses the potential of new tools, other crisis-originated tools designed to improve liquidity are unwinding.  For example, starting February 1st, emergency programs supporting the commercial paper, money market, and central bank swap markets will come to a close. The closure of such program should have minimal impact, since the usage of these tools has either stopped or fizzled out.

Fed watchers will also be paying attention to comments relating to the $1 trillion+ mortgage security purchase program set to expire in March. A sudden repeal of that plan could lead to higher mortgage rates and hamper the fragile housing recovery.

When the Fed policy makers meet this week, another tool open for discussion is the rate charged on emergency loans to banks – the discount rate (currently at 0.50%). Unlike the interest rate charged on excess reserves, any change to the discount rate will not have an impact charged on consumer loans.

While the Fed’s exit strategy is a top concern, market participants can breathe a sigh of relief now that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has been decisively reappointed – lack of support would have resulted in significant turmoil.

The patient (economy) is coming back to life and now the extraordinary medicines prescribed to the subject need to be responsibly removed. As the Federal Reserve considers its range of options, old instruments are being removed and new ones are being considered. The health of the economy is dependent on these crucial decisions, and as a result all of us will be carefully watching the chosen prescription along with the patient’s vital signs.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds but at the time of publishing had no direct positions in securities mentioned in the article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

February 1, 2010 at 2:00 am 1 comment


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