Posts tagged ‘monetary policy’

You Can’t Kiss All the Beauties

When I was in high school and college, kissing all the pretty girls was not a realistic goal. The same principle applies to stock picking – you can’t buy all the outperforming stocks. As far as I’m concerned, there will always be some people who are smarter, better looking, and wealthier than I am, but that has little to do with whether I can continue to outperform, if I stick to my systematic, disciplined process. In fact, many smart people are horrible investors because they overthink the investing process or suffer from “paralysis by analysis.” When it comes to investing, the behavioral ability to maintain independence is more important than being a genius. If you don’t believe me, just listen to arguably the smartest investor of all-time, Warren Buffett:

“Success in investing doesn’t correlate with I.Q. once you’re above the level of 125. Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble in investing.”

 

Even the best investors and stock pickers of all-time are consistently wrong. When selecting stocks, a worthy objective is to correctly pick three outperforming stocks out of five stocks. And out of the three winning stocks, the rationale behind the outperformance should be correct in two out of those three stocks. In other words, you can be right for the wrong reason in one out of three outperforming stocks. The legendary investor Peter Lynch summed it up when he stated, “If you’re terrific in this business you’re right six times out of 10.”

Yes, it’s true, luck does play a role in stock selection. You just don’t want luck being the major driving force behind your success because luck cannot be replicated consistently over the long-run. There are so many unpredictable variables that in the short-run can work for or against the performance of your stock. Consider factors like politics, monetary policy, weather, interest rates, terrorist attacks, regulations, tax policy, and many other influences that are challenging or impossible to forecast. Over the long-run, these uncontrollable and unpredictable factors should balance out, thereby allowing your investing edge to shine.

Although I have missed some supermodel stocks, I have kissed some pretty stocks in my career too. I wish I could have invested in more stocks like Amazon.com Inc. (AMZN) that have increased more than 10x-fold, but other beauties like Apple Inc. (AAPL), Alphabet Inc. (GOOG), and Facebook Inc. (FB), haven’t hurt my long-term performance either. As is the case for most successful long-term investors, winning stocks generally more than compensate for the stinkers, if you can have the wherewithal to hold onto the multi-baggers (i.e., stocks that more than double), which admittedly is much easier said than done. Peter Lynch emphasized this point by stressing a focus on the long-term:

“You don’t need a lot of good hits every day. All you need is two to three goods stocks a decade.”

 

Sticking to a process of identifying and investing in well-managed companies at attractive valuations is a much better approach to investing than chasing every beauty you see or read about. If you stick to this simple formula, you can experience lovely, long-term results.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in AAPL, FB, GOOG, AMZN, 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.

April 9, 2017 at 9:49 am Leave a comment

Michael Jordan and Market Statistics

Basketball Match

Basketball is in the air as the NBA playoffs are once again upon us. While growing up in high school, Michael Jordan was my basketball idol, and he dominated the sport globally at the highest level. I was a huge fanatic. Besides continually admiring my MJ poster-covered walls, I even customized my own limited edition Air Jordan basketball shoes by applying high school colors to them with model paint – I would not recommend this fashion experiment to others.

Eventually the laws of age, physics, and gravity took over, as Jordan slowly deteriorated physically into retirement. On an infinitesimally smaller level, I also experienced a similar effect during my 30s when playing in an old man’s recreational basketball league. Day-by-day, month-by-month, and year-by-year, I too got older and slower (tough to believe that’s possible) as I watched all the 20-somethings run circles around me – not to mention my playing time was slashed dramatically. Needless to say, I too was forced into retirement like Michael Jordan, but nobody retired my number, and I still have not been inducted into the Hall of Fame.

“Air Wade” Before Retirement: No Photoshop in 1988, just an optical illusion created by an 8-foot rim.

“Air Wade” Before Retirement: No Photoshop in 1988, just an optical illusion created by an 8-foot rim.

Financial markets are subject to similar laws of science (economics) too. The stock market and the economy get old and tired just like athletes, as evidenced by the cyclical nature of bear markets and recessions. Statistics are a beautiful thing when it comes to sports. Over the long run, numbers don’t lie about the performance of an athlete, just like statistics over the long run don’t lie about the financial markets. When points per game, shooting percentage, rebounds, assists, minutes played, and other measurements are all consistently moving south, then it’s safe to say fundamentals are weakening.

I’ve stated it many times in the past, and I’ll state it again, these are the most important factors to consider when contemplating the level and direction of the stock market (see also Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool).

  • Profits
  • Interest Rates
  • Valuations
  • Sentiment

While the absolute levels of these indicators are important, the trend or direction of each factor is also very relevant. Let’s review these factors a little more closely.

  • Profits: Profits and cash flows, generally speaking, are the lifeblood behind any investment and currently corporate profits are near record levels. When it comes to the S&P 500, the index is currently expected to generate a 2016 profit of $117.47. Considering a recent price closing of 2,092 on the index, this translates into a price-earnings ratio (P/E) of approximately 17.8x or a 5.6% earnings yield. This earnings yield can be compared to the 1.9% yield earned on the 10-Year Treasury Note, which is even lower than the 2.1% dividend yield on the S&P 500 (a rare historical occurrence). If history repeats itself, the 5.6% earnings yield on stocks should double to more than 10% over the next decade, however the yield on 10-year Treasuries stays flat at 1.9% over the next 10 years. The strong dollar and the implosion of the energy sector has put a lid on corporate profits over the last year, but emerging signs are beginning to show these trends reversing. Stabilizing profits near record levels should be a positive contributor to stocks, all else equal.
  • Interest Rates: Pundits have been pointing to central banks as the sole reason for low/negative interest rates globally (see chart below). NEWS FLASH: Central banks have been increasing and decreasing interest rates for decades, but that hasn’t stopped the nearly unabated 36-year decline in interest rates and inflation (see chart below). As I described in previous articles (see Why 0% Rates?), technology, globalization, and the rise of emerging markets is having a much larger impact on interest rates/inflation than monetary policies. If central banks are so powerful, then why after eight years of loose global monetary policies hasn’t inflation accelerated yet? Regardless, all else equal, these historically low interest rates are horrible for savers, but wonderful for equity investors and borrowers.

    Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

    Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

  • Valuations: The price you pay for an investment is one of the, if not the, most important factors to consider. I touched upon valuations earlier when discussing profits, and based on history, there is plenty of evidence to support the position that valuations are near historic averages. Shiller CAPE bears have been erroneously screaming bloody murder over the last seven years as prices have tripled (see Shiller CAPE smells like BS). A more balanced consideration of valuation takes into account the record low interest rates/inflation (see The Rule of 20).
  • Sentiment: There are an endless number of indicators measuring investor optimism vs. pessimism. Generally, most experienced investors understand these statistics operate as valuable contrarian indicators. In other words, as Warren Buffett says, it is best to “buy fear, and sell greed.” While I like to track anecdotal indicators of sentiment like magazine covers, I am a firm believer that actions speak louder than words. If you consider the post-crisis panic of dollars flowing into low yielding bonds – greater than $1 trillion more than stocks (see Chicken vs. Beef ) you will understand the fear and skepticism remaining in investors minds. The time to flee stocks is when everyone falls in love with them.

Readers of Michael Lewis’s book Moneyball understand the importance statistics can play in winning sports. Michael Jordan may not have been a statistician like Billy Beane, because he spent his professional career setting statistical records, not analyzing them. Unfortunately, my basketball career never led me to the NBA or Hall of Fame, but I still hope to continue winning in the financial markets by objectively following the all-important factors of profits, interest rates, valuations, and sentiment.

investment-questions-border

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 had no direct position in any 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.

April 23, 2016 at 5:39 pm 2 comments

Chasing Headlines

Chasing FreeImages

It’s been an amazing start to the year. First the market cratered on slowing China economic concerns, domestic recessionary fears, deteriorating oil prices, and negative interest rates abroad. In response to all these worries (and others), stocks dove more than -11% (S&P 500 Index) in January, before settling down. Subsequently, the market has made a screaming recovery, in part due to dovish monetary policy comments (i.e., reduction in forecasted interest rate hikes) and diminished anxiety over a potential global collapse. Month-to-date stocks are up an impressive +5.4%, and year-to-date equities are flattish, or down less than -1%.

With an endless amount of information flowing across our smart phones and computers, it becomes quite easy and tempting to chase news headlines, just like a hyper dog chasing a car. But even once an investor catches up (or reacts) to a headline, there’s confusion around how to profit from the fleeting information. First of all, every plugged-in hedge fund and institutional investor has likely already traded on the stale information you received. Second of all, rarely is the data relevant to the long-term cash generating capabilities of the company or economy. And lastly, the news is more often than not, instantly factored into the stock price. Chasing news headlines only eaves individual investors holding the bag of performance-shattering transactions costs, taxes, and worn-out pricing.

The heightened volatility in late 2015 and early 2016 hasn’t however prevented investors and so-called pundits from attempting to time the market. Any battle-tested investment veteran knows it’s virtually impossible to consistently time the market (see also Market Timing Treadmill), but this fact hasn’t prevented speculators from attempting the feat nonetheless. Famed investment guru, Peter Lynch, who earned an average +29% annual return from 1977-1990, summed it up well when he stated the following:

“Far more money has been lost by investors preparing for corrections, or trying to anticipate corrections, than has been lost in corrections themselves.”

 

The Important Factors

As I’ve written many times in the past, the keys to long-term stock performance are not knee-jerk reactions to headlines, but rather these following crucial factors (see also Don’t Be a Fool, Follow the Stool):

  • Profits
  • Interest Rates
  • Sentiment
  • Valuations

On the profit growth front, corporate income has been pressured by numerous headwinds over the last few years, including an export-shattering increase in the value of the U.S. dollar and a profit-squeezing collapse in energy sector earnings. As you can see from the chart below, the value of the U.S. dollar increased by about 25% from mid-2014 to early-2015, in part because of diverging global central bank policies (more hawkish U.S. Fed vs. more dovish ECB/international central banks). Since that spike, the dollar has settled into a broad range (95 – 100), and the former forceful headwind have now turned into modest tailwinds. This trend is important because an estimated 35-40% of corporate profits are derived from international operations.

Adding insult to injury, the roughly greater than -70% decline in forward energy earnings over the last 18 months has caused a significant hit to overall S&P 500 profits. The tide appears to be finally turning (or at least stabilizing) however, as we’ve seen oil prices rebound by about +30% this year from the lows in January. If these aforementioned trends persist, profit pressures in 2016 are likely to abate significantly, and may actually become additive to growth.

U.S. Dollar 3-26-16

Source: Barchart.com

Profits are important, but so are interest rates. While incessant talk about the path of future Fed policy continues to blanket the airwaves (see also Fed Fatigue), absent a rapid increase in interest rates (say 300-400 basis points), interest rates remain unambiguously positive for equity markets, providing a floor for the oft-repeated volatility in financial markets. As long as stocks are providing higher yields than many bonds, and depositors are earning 0% (or negative rates) on their checking accounts, stocks may remain unloved, but not forgotten.

And speaking of unloved, the sentiment for stocks remains sour. One need look no further than the quarter-billion dollars in hemorrhaging outflows out of U.S. equity funds (see ICI Long-Term Mutual Fund Flows) since 2014. This deep underlying skepticism serves as a positive contrarian indicator for future equity prices. Right now, very few individual investors are swimming in the pool – the time to get out of the stock market pool is when everyone is jumping in.

And lastly, valuations remain very much in line with historical averages (approximatqely 17x 2016 projected earnings), especially considering the generational low in interest rates. Bears continue to point to the elevated CAPE ratio, which has been a disastrous indicator the last seven years (and longer), as a reason to remain cautious. The ironic part is that valuations are virtually guaranteed to improve a few years from now as we roll off the artificially depressed years of 2008-2010.

When you add it all up, zero (or negative) interest rates, combined with the other key factors of profits, sentiment, and valuations, equities remain an important and attractive part of a diversified long-term portfolio. Your objectives, time horizon, and risk tolerance will always drive the proportion of your equity allocation. Nevertheless, some bond exposure is essential to smooth out volatility. Regardless of your investment strategy, chasing headlines, like a dog chasing a car, serves no purpose other than leaving you with a tired, unproductive investment portfolio.

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com

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 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.

March 26, 2016 at 12:29 pm Leave a comment

Coast is Clear Until 2019

Business Foresight

The economic recovery since the Great Financial Crisis of 2008-09 has been widely interpreted as the slowest recovery since World War II. Bill McBride of Calculated Risk captures this phenomenon incredibly well in his historical job loss chart (see red line in chart below):

Source: Calculated Risk

Source: Calculated Risk

History tells us that the economy traditionally suffers from an economic recession twice per decade, but we are closing in on seven years since the last recession with little evidence of impending economic doom.

So, are we due for another recession? Logic would dictate that since this recovery has been the slowest in a generation, the duration of this recovery should also be the longest. Strategist Ed Yardeni of Dr. Ed’s Blog uses data from historical economic cycles and CEI statistics (Coincident Economic Indicators) to make the same case. Based on his analysis, Yardeni does not see the next recession arriving until March 2019 (see chart below). If you take a look at the last five previous cycle peaks, recoveries generally last for an additional five and a half years (roughly 65 months). Since the last rebound to a cyclical peak occurred in October 2013, 65 months from then would imply the next downturn would begin in March 2019.

Source: Dr. Ed's Blog

Source: Dr. Ed’s Blog

Typically, an economy loses steam and enters a recession after a phase of over-investment, tight labor conditions, and an extended period of tight central bank monetary policies. Over the last seven years, we have experienced quite the opposite. Corporations have been very slow to invest or hire new employees. For those employees hired, many of them are “under-employed” (i.e., working part-time), or in other words, these workers want more work hours. Our country’s slower-than-expected growth has created an output gap. Scott Grannis at Calafia Beach Pundit estimates this gap to approximate $2.8 trillion (see chart below). The CBO expects a smaller gap estimate of about $580 billion to narrow over the next few years. By Grannis’s calculations, there is a reservoir of 5 – 10 million jobs that could be tapped if the economy was operating more efficiently.

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

Bolstering his argument, Grannis points out that the risk of a recession rises when there are significant capacity constraints and tight money. He sees the opposite happening – an enormous supply of unused capacity remains underutilized as he describes here:

“Today, money is abundant and resources are abundant. Even energy is abundant, because its price has fallen by over 50% in the past year or so. Corporate profits are near record highs, the supply of labor is virtually unconstrained, energy is suddenly cheap, and productive capacity is relatively abundant.”

While new uncertainties have been introduced (e.g., slowing China, potential government shutdown/sequestration, emerging market weakness), the reality remains there is always uncertainty. Even if you truly believe there is more uncertainty today relative to yesterday, the economy has some relatively strong shock absorbers to ride out the volatility.

There are plenty of potentially bad things to worry about, but if it’s a cyclical recession that you are worried about, then why don’t you grab a seat, order a coconut drink with an umbrella, and wait another  three and a half years until you reach the circled date of March 2019 on your calendar.

investment-questions-border

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 26, 2015 at 10:09 am Leave a comment

Mathematics 101: The Cheap Money Printing Machine

Woman Using Atm Machine

Like many other bloggers and pundits, I have amply pontificated on the relative attractiveness of the stock market. For years, cash and gold hoarding bears have clung to the distorted, money-losing Shiller CAPE P/E ratio (see CAPE Smells Like B.S.), which has incorrectly signaled investors to stay out of stocks and miss trillions of dollars in price appreciation. Apparently, the ironclad Shiller CAPE device has been temporarily neutralized by the Federal Reserve’s artificially cheapening money printing press policies, just like Superman’s strength being stripped by the nullifying powers of kryptonite. The money printing logic seems so elegantly sound, I felt compelled to encapsulate this powerful relationship in an equation:

Interests Rate Cuts + Printing Press On = Stocks Go Higher

Wow, amazing…this is arithmetic any investor (or 3rd grader) could appreciate! Fortunately for me, I have a child in elementary school, so I became emboldened to share my new found silver bullet equation. I initially received a few raised eyebrows from my child when I introduced the phrase “Quantitative Easing” but it didn’t take long before she realized Rate Cuts + QE = Fat Piggy Bank.

After the intensive tutorial, I felt so very proud. With a smile on my face, I gave myself a big pat on the back, until I heard my child say, “Daddy, after looking at this squiggly S&P 500 line from 2007-2014, can you help my brain understand because I have some questions.”

Here is the subsequent conversation:

Me: “Sure kiddo, go ahead shoot…what can I answer for you?”

Child: “Daddy, if the Federal Reserve is so powerful and you should “not fight the Fed,” how come stock prices went down by -58% from 2007 – 2009, even though the Fed cut rates from 5.25% to 0%?”

Me: “Uhhhh….”

Child: “Daddy, if stock prices went down so much after massive rate cuts, does that mean stock prices will go up when the Fed increases rates?”

Me: “Uhhhh….”

Child: “Daddy, if Quantitative Easing is good for stock prices, how come after the QE1 announcement in November 2008, stock prices continued to go down -25%?”

Me: “Uhhhh….”

Child: “Daddy, if QE makes stocks go up, how come stock prices are at all-time record highs after the Fed has cut QE by -$70 billion per month and is completely stopping QE by 100% next month?”

Me: “Uhhhh….”

Child: “Daddy, everyone is scared of rate increases but when the Fed increased interest rates by 250 basis points in 1994, didn’t stock prices stay flat for the year?”

Me: “Uhhhh….” (See also 1994 Bond Repeat)

What started as a confident conversation about my bullet-proof mathematical equation ended up with me sweating bullets.

Math 101A: Low Interest Rates = Higher Asset Prices

As my previous conversation highlights, the relationship between rate cuts and monetary policy may not be as clear cut as skeptics would like you to believe. Although I enjoy the widely covered Shiller CAPE discussions on market valuations, somehow the media outlets fail to make the all-important connection between interest rates and P/E ratios.

One way of framing the situation is by asking a simple question:

Would you rather have $100 today or $110 a year from now?

The short answer is…”it depends.” All else equal, the level of interest rates will ultimately determine your decision. If interest rates are offering 20%, a rational person would select the $100 today, invest the money at 20%, and then have $120 a year from now. On the other hand, if interest rates were 0.5%, a rational person would instead select the option of receiving $110 a year from now because collecting a $100 today and investing at 0.5% would only produce $100.50 a year from now.

The same time-value-of-money principle applies to any asset, whether you are referring to gold, cars, houses, private businesses, stocks, or other assets. The mathematical fact is, all else equal, a rational person will always pay more for an asset when interest rates are low, and pay less when interest rates are high. As the 200-year interest chart below shows, current long-term interest rates are near all-time lows.

Source: The Big Picture

Source: The Big Picture

The peak in interest rates during the early 1980s correlated with a single digit P/E ratio (~8x). The current P/E ratio is deservedly higher (~16x), but it is dramatically lower than the 30x+ P/E ratio realized in the 2000 year timeframe. If none of this discussion makes sense, consider the simple Rule of 20 (see also The Rule of 20 Can Make You Plenty), which states as a simple rule-of-thumb, the average market P/E ratio should be equal to 20 minus the level inflation. With inflation currently averaging about 2%, the Rule of 20 implies an equilibrium of ~18x. If you assume this P/E multiple and factor in a 7-8% earnings growth rate, you could legitimately argue for 20% appreciation in the market to S&P 2,400 over a 12-month period. It’s true, a spike in interest rates, combined with a deceleration in earnings would justify a contraction in stock prices, but even under this scenario, current index values are nowhere near the bubble levels of 2000.

After six long years, the QE train is finally grinding to a halt, and a return towards Fed policy normalcy could be rapidly approaching. Many investors and skeptical bears have tried to rationalize the tripling in the market from early 2009 as solely due to the cheap Fed money printing machine. Unfortunately, history and mathematics don’t support that assertion. If you don’t believe me, perhaps a child may be able to explain it to you better.

Investment Questions Border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own a range of positions in certain exchange traded fund positions, 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 27, 2014 at 4:19 pm 2 comments

Gekko & Greed – Friedman & Freedom

Gordon Gekko and Milton Friedman

As the old saying goes, the more things change, the more things stay the same. The topic of greed, fat cat bankers, and political self-preservation is just as prevalent and relevant today as it was three decades ago, as evidenced by Milton Friedman’s past television interview (see video below).  Milton Friedman and Gordon Gekko, the conniving financier from Oliver Stone’s movie Wall Street played by Michael Douglas, both may not philosophically agree on all aspects of life and politics but Friedman would likely buy into much of Gekko’s view on greed:  

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right, greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through, and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit. Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind. And greed, you mark my words, will not only save Teldar Paper, but that other malfunctioning corporation called the USA.”

 

Although Friedman held some extreme views on certain issues, fundamentally underlying all his principles was his convicted belief in freedom – political, individual, and economic freedom.

Some things never change – Milton Friedman talks about greed and capitalism with Phil Donahue.

Background

Milton Friedman (1912-2006), one of the greatest economists of the 20th Century was a Nobel Prize winner in economics, Professor at the University of Chicago (1946-1977), and an economic advisor to President Ronald Reagan. Friedman’s laissez-faire economic views coupled with his belief that government should be severely restricted, not only had a significant influence on the field of economics in the United States, but also globally. His body of work was expansive, but some major areas of contribution include his impact on Federal Reserve monetary policy; his written work on consumption and the natural rate of unemployment; and his rejection of the Phillips curve (the inverse relation of inflation relative to unemployment), to name a few.

Political & Economic Firestorm on the Horizon

Although Friedman is tightly associated with his Republican advisor work (including Ronald Reagan), he strictly considered himself a Libertarian at the core. As much as politically left leaning Americans are blaming the 2008-2009 financial crisis on Friedman-backed deregulation and a lack of government oversight, Conservatives and Libertarians are screaming bloody murder at the Democratic controlled Congress when it comes to all the bailouts, stimulus, and entitlement legislation.  If Milton Friedman is looking down upon us now, my guess is that his vote is to flush all the proposed government spending down the toilet, let the failing financial institutions drown, and for Gordon Gekko’s sake, let the greedy,  fat cat bankers thrive.

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 time of publishing had no direct position on any security referenced. 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 28, 2010 at 11:45 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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