Sweet Surrender

Janet Yellen had a pretty easy job when she was the Federal Reserve chair. By keeping interest rates at or near zero for years on end, she never heard any criticism from the president, government officials or the financial markets. Since he became Fed chair a little over a year ago, Jerome Powell has gotten nothing but flack, from President Trump – who was at it again last week – to a whole swarm of people on Wall Street complaining that the Fed was ruining their returns.

Powell got the message several months ago, and last week he handed in his formal surrender. Not only did the Fed leave interest rates alone at its monetary policy meeting, but it indicated that there would likely be no more rate hikes the rest of this year, and maybe next year, too. “It may be some time before the outlook for jobs and inflation calls clearly for a change in policy,” Powell said.

The Fed also called a halt to the runoff in its still humungous Treasury securities portfolio. Beginning in May, the Fed will slow to $15 billion – from the current $30 billion -- the monthly redemptions of its Treasury holdings, with the runoff to end in October, meaning its balance sheet will start growing again.

So now Powell and his Fed mates can sit back blissfully and listen to the silence, at least for now. Continue reading "Sweet Surrender"

Blowin' In The Wind

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell last week held sacred the Fed’s “precious” independence, but he apparently forgot how quickly and easily it’s been bullied into altering its monetary policy by both politicians and influential financial markets people.

Until just a couple of months ago, the Fed was determined to “normalize” interest rates and its enormous balance sheet. But after a relative – emphasis on that word – weak patch for the economy and howls of pain from investors during last year’s correction, the Powell Fed was lighting quick to reverse course and put a halt to more rate hikes and portfolio runoff until further notice.

Not surprisingly, the financial press hasn’t given President Trump any credit for this (if credit is the right word in this instance), even though he was clearly the first and loudest basher of tightening Fed policy. Wall Street then jumped on the bandwagon, and voila, we have a new “patient” Fed and an easier monetary policy – and the best January for stocks since the 1980s.
Powell and other members of the Fed have tried to justify their abrupt about-face by noting recent weak – again, relatively speaking – economic data. But January’s robust nonfarm payrolls report – nearly double the consensus forecast – calls that into serious question. Continue reading "Blowin' In The Wind"

The Fed's 2018 New Year's Resolution

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


In February Jerome Powell takes over as chair of the Federal Reserve, succeeding Janet Yellen. His first order of business should be to get the Fed off its silly, outdated and nonsensical monetary policy target of 2% inflation. He and the other members of the Federal Open Market Committee should at the very least change the inflation target number, or, better yet, find a different measuring stick altogether.

One of the Fed’s mandates, we know, is to keep inflation “stable,” as noted on the Fed’s website, citing the Federal Reserve Act (the other two mandates are achieving maximum employment and moderate long-term interest rates). The current Fed has taken to defining price stability as 2% inflation. Given that the Fed already basically believes it has accomplished the other two objectives, and price inflation has been nothing but rock-solid stable for several years, it’s not clear why it’s still so determined to get inflation up to that 2% target rate, and letting that dictate its monetary policy. If prices are stable at about 1.5%, rather than 2%, doesn’t that meet the mandate, as long as prices are stable?

During the Great Depression of the 1930s the lack of inflation – more accurately, deflation – was a big problem, feeding the downward spiral in the economy for more than ten years. Since then, economists, both on the Fed and elsewhere, have been absolutely terrified of that happening again, even though we haven’t come close to it, not even during the depths of the recent Great Recession. Now that we have seemed to have finally pulled out of the last financial crisis, it’s time to put that deflation obsession to rest. Continue reading "The Fed's 2018 New Year's Resolution"

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"

S&P 500: Any Juice Left?

Lior Alkalay - INO.com Contributor


The S&P 500 (CME:SP500) closed for the week at 2,472.10, after hitting an all-time record, after gaining 10.5% year-to-date. The S&P’s forward Price-to-Earnings ratio, a key ratio for investors, is 17.8 above the 10-year average of 14. And this brings up the inevitable pondering; is there any juice left in the S&P 500?

In searching for an answer, the intuitive starting point might be the S&P’s valuation. We’ve already pointed out that the S&P 500 is trading at a high valuation compared to its 10-year average. Furthermore, according to Factset research, earnings for the 500 companies which comprise the S&P 500 are expected to rise by 9.3% as compared to 9.26% in 2016. Now, while that is a solid figure, it also suggests earnings growth is not accelerating and may even suggest the acceleration in earnings growth is over. And if earnings growth is likely to decelerate in the coming years it cannot account for the S&P500’s 17.8 PE ratio. So, there’s no valid reason why the S&P’s valuation would be the catalyst for another surge. Why not? Simply because it's too high. In fact, the real catalyst isn’t within the S&P500 or even within the stock market; instead, the real reason lies within the Bond market. Continue reading "S&P 500: Any Juice Left?"