Let's Not Relive The Past The Hard Way

George Yacik - INO.com Contributor - Fed & Interest Rates


Be careful what you wish for. That’s my modest advice to some bankers and their government regulators who want to ease up on bank oversight.

An article in the Wall Street Journal last week reported that several banks around the country are dropping the Federal Reserve as a regulator. The actions so far seem innocent enough, and perfectly reasonable in the examples mentioned, but they did conjure up some bad memories of how the housing bust – and subsequent global financial crisis – got started.

Here’s the story.

According to the Journal, Little Rock-based Bank of the Ozarks in June opted to ditch its holding-company structure, which means it is no longer regulated by the Fed. Now, as a bank only, and not a BHC, it will be regulated solely by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Saving money from having two layers of regulation was the main motivator for the bank. George Gleason, the bank’s CEO, said, “We didn’t really need to be regulated by both.”

The bank, which has about $21 billion in assets, is the largest bank to make such a move, but it’s not the only one. Continue reading "Let's Not Relive The Past The Hard Way"

Fleeing The Fed Ship

George Yacik - INO.com Contributor - Fed & Interest Rates


William Dudley, the president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, has become the latest senior Fed official to announce his retirement. He follows Fed Vice Chair Stanley Fischer, who announced his intention to resign in September, and Daniel Tarullo, the central bank's top financial regulator, who announced his resignation back in February.

Of course, the biggest departure at the Fed was one that wasn’t voluntary, namely President Trump decision not to renominate Janet Yellen for another term as Fed chair, ignoring 40 years of precedent to reappoint a sitting Fed chief. Instead, of course, he nominated Fed governor Jerome Powell to replace her when her four-year term ends in February. Still, Yellen is entitled to finish her 14-year term as a member of the Fed’s Board of Governors, which doesn’t expire for another seven years, on January 31, 2024, although her staying on would also be unprecedented.
All told, there are now three open seats on the seven-member Board of Governors, which of course may rise to four if Yellen elects to leave.

It’s pertinent to ask, then: What are all the departures at the Fed, both voluntary and involuntarily, signaling? Is it simply senior officials graciously moving aside to let a new president get a chance to pick his own people? Or is there something more sinister afoot, namely, do they indicate that a big change in the market is about to occur and they want to get out before the chickens come home to roost? Continue reading "Fleeing The Fed Ship"

Is Janet Coming Back?

George Yacik - INO.com Contributor - Fed & Interest Rates


A lot of names have been thrown around to be the next head of the Federal Reserve. But who is the most likely person President Trump will name?

The current occupant, Janet Yellen, has to be considered the front-runner, although that doesn’t necessarily mean she’ll be renominated. Indeed, I would put the odds of her being reappointed at less than 50-50 – a lot less.

She does have several things going for her. First and foremost, she’s a known quantity. The markets would certainly be happy if Yellen were reappointed, if for no other reason than that they’ll know what they’re getting. With the major stock indexes all at or near all-time highs, and the bull market already nine years old, the market doesn’t want anything untoward to upset the status quo.

But as we should know well by now, stability isn’t exactly Trump’s comfort zone. Two weeks ago, he had no problem telling investors in billions of Puerto Rican bonds that they could pound sand, which caused a major meltdown in the price of those bonds (administration officials subsequently walked back his remarks).

Would he risk something like that happening to the entire bond and stock markets by not reappointing Yellen? (Even if she doesn’t get reappointed as Fed chair, Yellen’s term as a member of the Fed’s Board of Governors doesn’t end until January 2024, although it’s expected that she’ll resign if she’s not renamed as chair).

Besides the stability factor, the main reason why the markets like Yellen, of course, is because, in the words of Mr. Trump himself on the campaign trail in May 2016, “She is a low-interest rate person, she’s always been a low-interest rate person, and let’s be honest, I’m a low-interest rate person.” He reiterated those feelings in July in an interview with the Wall Street Journal, in which he added, “I think she’s done a good job.” Continue reading "Is Janet Coming Back?"

Commodities: Time For A Strategy Shift

Lior Alkalay - INO.com Contributor


Commodity prices are facing a shift. As inflation heats up and growth stabilizes, the commodity arena is gradually tilting in favor of growth-oriented commodities such as Oil and Copper Meanwhile, commodities associated with inflation protection, e.g., Gold and Silver, are not only losing their allure but face growing sell pressure.

The thought of selling precious metals just as inflation is showing signs of coming back may sound counter-intuitive. After all, precious metals are one of the more well-known methods of hedging against inflation. So, why are precious metals tanking just as inflation is coming back?

Because the capacity of precious metals as an inflation protection method emerges when investors believe that inflation is understated in the official numbers. When inflation becomes fact, we begin to see the classic, "buy on rumor, sell on fact" response; i.e., investors start selling precious metals. Since Gold and Silver do not pay interest, their investment appeal decreases when rates rise. But, when inflation is under-reported, effective rates are lower and the value of the currency, in our case the Dollar, is eroded. And, in this case, precious metals gain appeal for preserving value and as an alternative investment. That would explain Gold’s price surge from July $1,210 an ounce in July to $1,350 in September, when US headline inflation numbers caught the market off guard with a fall to from 2.7% in February to 1.6% in June, meaning inflation was understated.

This dynamic also explains the fire sale that hit precious metals in the aftermath of the Fed's September rate decision. The Fed signaled a rate hike as soon as December and another three in 2018. Gold responded by shedding 3.6% in two weeks.

Gold
Chart courtesy of MarketClub.com

All the while, the rest of the commodities space was holding rather well in the face of higher rates. In fact, in aggregate, excluding precious metals, commodities prices were gaining. One good example is the iShares S&P GSCI Commodity-Indexed Trust ETF (GSG), which embodies exposure to the broad commodities market from energy and agriculture to precious metals and gained 0.54% during Gold's selloff. Continue reading "Commodities: Time For A Strategy Shift"

What's Behind the Fed's Inflation Obsession?

George Yacik - INO.com Contributor - Fed & Interest Rates


The battle lines are being drawn for the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy meeting this week. The prevailing market consensus right now is that no resolution of the debate – which mainly concerns inflation – will happen at the meeting, meaning there will be no change in interest rates, and may not be before the end of this year.

One side of the issue, which seems to be the prevailing view at the central bank, was recently promulgated by Fed governor Lael Brainard at a meeting of the Economic Club of New York. “My own view is that we should be cautious about tightening policy further until we are confident inflation is on track to achieve our target,” she said. “We have been falling short of our inflation objective not just in the past year, but over a longer period as well. What is troubling is five straight years in which inflation fell short of our target despite a sharp improvement in resource utilization.”

The other side, which appears to be the minority opinion, is represented by William Dudley, the president of the New York Fed, who isn’t overly concerned about the current level of inflation. “Even though inflation is currently somewhat below our longer-run objective, I judge that it is still appropriate” to raise interest rates soon, he said recently. “I expect that we will continue to gradually remove monetary policy accommodation.” Continue reading "What's Behind the Fed's Inflation Obsession?"