Posts tagged ‘Federal Funds rate’

Sweating in the Doctor’s Waiting Room

waiting-room-1-1526405

My palms are clammy, heart-rate is elevated, and sweat has begun to drip down my brow. There I sit with my hands clenched in the doctor’s office waiting room. I’m trying to mentally prepare for the inevitable poking, prodding, and personal invasion, which will likely involve numerous compromising cavity searches from head to toe. The fun usually doesn’t end until a finale of needle piercing vaccinations and blood tests are completed.

Every year I go through the same mental fatigue war, battling every fear, uncertainty, and doubt. Will the doctor find a new ailment? How many shots will I have to get? Am I going to die?! Ultimately it never turns out as badly as I expect and I come out each and every doctor’s appointment saying, “Well, that wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be.”

Investors have been nervously sitting in the waiting room of the Federal Reserve for the last nine years (2006), which marks the last time the Fed increased the interest rate target for the Federal Funds rate. In arguably the slowest economic recovery since World War II, pundits, commentators, bloggers, strategists, and economists have been speculating about the timing of the Fed’s first rate hike of this economic cycle.  Like anxious patients, investors have fretted about the reversal of our country’s unprecedented zero interest rate monetary policy (ZIRP).

Despite dealing with the most communicative Federal Reserve in a few generations signaling its every thought and concern, uncertainty somehow continues to creep into investors’ psyches and reign supreme. We witnessed this same volatility occur between 2012-2014 when Ben Bernanke and the Fed decided to phase out the $4.5 trillion quantitative easing (QE) bond buying program. At the time, many people felt the financial markets were being artificially propped up by the money printing feds, and once QE ended, expectations were for exploding interest rates and the stock market/economy to fall like a house of cards. As we all know, that prediction turned out to be the furthest from the truth. In fact, quite the opposite occurred. Investors took their medicine (halting of QE) and the market proceeded to move upwards by about +40% from the initial “taper tantrum” (talks of QE ending in spring of 2012) until the actual QE completion in October 2014.

The thought of rate hike cycles are never fun, but after swallowing the initial rate hike pill, investors will feel just fine after coming to terms with the gentle trajectory of future interest rate increases. The behavioral model of 1) investor fear, then 2) subsequent relief has been a recurring process throughout economic history. As you can see below, the bark of Federal Reserve interest rate target hikes has been much worse than the bite. Initially there is a modest negative reaction (approximately -7% decline in stock prices) and then a significant positive reaction (about +21%).

Fed Rate Cycles Performance

With an ultra-dove Fed Chief in charge, this rate hike cycle should look much different than prior periods. Chairwoman Yellen has clearly stated, “Even after the initial increase in the target funds rate, our policy is likely to remain highly accommodative.” Her colleague, New York Fed Chair William Dudley, has supported this idea by noting the path of rate hikes will be “shallow.”

Even if you are convinced rate hikes will cause an immediate recession, history is not on your side as shown in the study below. On average, since 1955, the time to a next recession after a Fed Rate hike takes an average of 41 months (ranging from 11 months to as long as 86 months).

Fed Rate Cycle - Duration

As a middle aged man, one would think I would get used to my annual doctor’s check-up, but somehow fear manages to find a way of asserting itself. Investors’ have been experiencing the same anxiety as anticipation builds before the first interest rate hike announcement – likely this week. Markets may continue their jitteriness in front of the Fed’s announcement, but based on history, a ¼ point hike is more likely to be a prescription of economic confidence than economic doom. Everyone should feel much better leaving the waiting room after Janet Yellen finally begins normalizing an unsustainably loose monetary policy.

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Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM 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.

December 12, 2015 at 3:41 pm 2 comments

Oxymoron: Shrewd Government Refis Credit Card

Credit Card - FreeImages

With the upcoming Federal Reserve policy meetings coming up this Wednesday and Thursday, investors’ eyes remain keenly focused on the actions and words of Federal Reserve Chairwoman Janet Yellen.

If you have painstakingly filled out an IRS tax return or frustratingly waited in long lines at the DMV or post office, you may not be a huge fan of government services. Investors and liquidity addicted borrowers are also irritated with the idea of the Federal Reserve pulling away the interest rate punch bowl too soon. We will find out early enough whether Yellen will hike the Fed Funds interest rate target to 0.25%, or alternatively, delay a rate increase when there are clearer signs of inflation risks.

Regardless of the Fed decision this week, with interest rates still hovering near generational lows, it is refreshing to see some facets of government making shrewd financial market decisions – for example in the area of debt maturity management. Rather than squeezing out diminishing benefits by borrowing at the shorter end of the yield curve, the U.S. Treasury has been taking advantage of these shockingly low rates by locking in longer debt maturities. As you can see from the chart below, the Treasury has increased the average maturity of its debt by more than 20% from 2010 to 2015. And they’re not done yet. The Treasury’s current plan based on the existing bond issuance trajectory will extend the average bond maturity from 70 months in 2015 to 80 months by the year 2022.

Maturity of Debt Outstanding 2015

If you were racking up large sums of credit card debt at an 18% interest rate with payments due one month from now, wouldn’t you be relieved if you were given the offer to pay back that same debt a year from now at a more palatable 2% rate? Effectively, that is exactly what the government is opportunistically taking advantage of by extending the maturity of its borrowings.

Most bears fail to acknowledge this positive trend. The typical economic bear argument goes as follows, “Once the Fed pushes interest rates higher, interest payments on government debt will balloon, and government deficits will explode.” That argument definitely holds up some validity as newly issued debt will require higher coupon payments to investors. But at a minimum, the Treasury is mitigating the blow of the sizable government debt currently outstanding by extending the average Treasury maturity (i.e., locking in low interest rates).

It is worth noting that while extending the average maturity of debt by the Treasury is great news for U.S. tax payers (i.e., smaller budget deficits because of lower interest payments), maturity extension is not so great news for bond investors worried about potentially rising interest rates. Effectively, by the Treasury extending bond maturities on the debt owed, the government is creating a larger proportion of “high octane” bonds. By referring to “high octane” bonds, I am highlighting the “duration” dynamic of bonds. All else equal, a lengthening of bond maturities, will increase a bond’s duration. Stated differently, long duration, “high octane” bonds will collapse in price if in interest rates spike higher. The government will be somewhat insulated to that scenario, but not the bond investors buying these longer maturity bonds issued by the Treasury.

All in all, you may not have the greatest opinion about the effectiveness of the IRS, DMV, and/or post office, but regardless of your government views, you should be heartened by the U.S. Treasury’s shrewd and prudent extension of the average debt maturity. Now, all you need to do is extend the maturity and lower the interest rate on your personal credit card debt.

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www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

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 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.

September 12, 2015 at 10:00 am Leave a comment

Is Good News, Bad News?

Tug o war

The tug-of-war is officially on as investors try to decipher whether good news is good or bad for the stock market? On the surface, the monthly January jobs report released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) appeared to be welcomed, positive data. Total jobs added for the month tallied +257,000 (above the Bloomberg consensus of +230,000) and the unemployment rate registered 5.7% thanks to the labor participation rate swelling during the month (see chart below). More specifically, the number of people looking for a job exceeded one million, which is the largest pool of job seekers since 2000.

Source: BLS via New York Times

Source: BLS via New York Times

Initially the reception by stocks to the jobs numbers was perceived positively as the Dow Jones Industrial index climbed more than 70 points on Friday. Upon further digestion, investors began to fear an overheated employment market could lead to an earlier than anticipated interest rate hike by the Federal Reserve, which explains the sell-off in bonds. The yield on the 10-Year Treasury proceeded to spike by +0.13% before settling around 1.94% – that yield compares to a recent low of 1.65% reached last week. The initial euphoric stock leap eventually changed direction with the Dow producing a -180 point downward reversal, before the Dow ended the day down -62 points for the session.

Crude Confidence?

The same confusion circling the good jobs numbers has also been circulating around lower oil prices, which on the surface should be extremely positive for the economy, considering consumer spending accounts for roughly 70% of our country’s economic output. Lower gasoline prices and heating bills means more discretionary spending in the pockets of consumers, which should translate into more economic activity. Furthermore, it comes as no surprise to me that oil is both figuratively and literally the lubricant for moving goods around our country and abroad, as evidenced by the Dow Jones Transportation index that has handily outperformed the S&P 500 index over the last 18 months. While this may truly be the case, many journalists, strategists, economists, and analysts are nevertheless talking about the harmful deflationary impacts of declining oil prices. Rather than being viewed as a stimulative lubricant to the economy, many of these so-called pundits point to low oil prices as a sign of weak global activity and an omen of worse things to come.

This begs the question, as I previously explored a few years ago (see Good News=Good News?), is it possible that good news can actually be good news? Is it possible that lower energy costs for oil importing countries could really be stimulative for the global economy, especially in regions like Europe and Japan, which have been in a decade-long funk? Is it possible that healthier economies benefiting from substantial job creation can cause a stingy, nervous, and scarred corporate boardrooms to finally open up their wallets to invest more significantly?

Interest Rate Doom May Be Boom?

Quite frankly, all the incessant, never-ending discussions about an impending financial market Armageddon due to a potential single 0.25% basis point rate hike seem a little hyperbolic. Could I be naively whistling past the graveyard? From my perspective, although it is a foregone conclusion the Fed will have to increase interest rates above 0%, this is nothing new (I’m really putting my neck out there on this projection). Could this cause some volatility when it finally happens…of course. Just look at what happened to financial markets when former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke merely threatened investors with a wind-down of quantitative easing (QE) in 2013 and investors had a taper tantrum. Sure, stocks got hit by about -5% at the time, but now the S&P 500 index has catapulted higher by more than +25%.

Looking at how stocks react in previous rate hike cycles is another constructive exercise. The aggressive +2.50% in rate hikes by former Fed Chair Alan Greenspan in 1995 may prove to be a good proxy (see also 1994 Bond Repeat?). After suffering about a -10% correction early in 1994, stocks rallied in the back-half to end the year at roughly flat.

And before we officially declare the end of the world over a single 0.25% hike, let’s not forget that the last rate hike cycle (2004 – 2006) took two and a half years and 17 increases in the targeted Federal Funds rate (1.00% to 5.25%). Before the rate increases finally broke the stock market’s back, the bull market moved about another +40% higher…not too shabby.

Lastly, before writing the obituary of this bull market, it’s worth noting the yield curve has been an incredible leading indicator and currently this gauge is showing zero warnings of any dark clouds approaching on the horizon (see chart below). As a matter of fact, over the last 50 years or so, the yield curve has turned negative (or near 0%) before every recession.

Source: StockCharts.com

Source: StockCharts.com

As the chart above shows, the yield curve remains very sloped despite modest flattening in recent quarters.

While many skeptics are having difficulty accepting the jobs data and declining oil prices as good news because of rate hike fears, history shows us this position could be very misguided. Perhaps, once again, this time around good news may actually be good news.

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www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

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 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.

February 7, 2015 at 2:16 pm Leave a 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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