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"

Fed Chairman Powell Resuscitates Financial Cohort

The market-wide sell-off in the fourth quarter of 2018 was largely induced by the Federal Reserve and its alleged commitment to sequential interest rate increases into 2019. This was largely viewed as reckless and misguided while turning a blind eye to broader economic data-driven decision making about further interest rate hikes. The stock indices responded to the sequential interest rate hike stance with overwhelming negative sentiment, logging double-digit declines across the broader markets. Many market observers were questioning the Federal Reserve’s aggressive stance as companies issued weakness in ancillary economic metrics (slowing global growth, strong U.S. dollar, trade war, government shutdown, weak housing numbers, retail weakness, auto sluggishness, and oil decline) as an indication that cracks in the economic cycle were materializing. The strong labor market and record low unemployment served as a basis to rationalize increasing rates to tame inflation however these aforementioned economic headwinds appeared to cause the Federal Reserve to pivot in its aggressive stance. As Chairman Jerome Powell began to issue a softer stance on future interest rate hikes, January saw very healthy stock market gains after being decimated for months prior. On January 30th, Jerome Powell issued language that the markets were craving to levitate higher as he left interest rates unchanged and exercised caution and patience as a path forward. Using data-driven decision making as a path forward was cheered by market participants as the broader indices popped for healthy gains on top of the already robust gains throughout January.

Financial Cohort Squeezed

The financial cohort was stuck in a precarious situation in the latter half of 2018. On the one hand, a rising interest rate environment would provide boosts to bottom line revenue as a function of the increased rates on their deposit base. Banks had domestic and global economic expansion tailwinds at their back while posting accelerating revenue growth, increasing dividend payouts, engaging in a record number of share buybacks, benefiting from tax reform and deregulation. Augmenting this positive backdrop was a record number of IPOs, a record number of global merger and acquisitions along with consulting fees regarding mergers and acquisitions and trading around market volatility. All of these elements ostensibly provided an ideal confluence that boded well for the financial sector. JP Morgan (JPM), Citi (C), Wells Fargo (WFC), Goldman Sachs (GS) and Bank of America (BAC) seemed to be poised to continue to benefit from the favorable economic backdrop. Despite all these elements, 2018 was terrible for the financials which performed horribly, especially during the fourth quarter as rapid rate hikes were in the cards. Continue reading "Fed Chairman Powell Resuscitates Financial Cohort"

Shutdown Or Not, The Fed Abides

Here’s an additional reason to be thankful for the independence of the Federal Reserve. Since the Fed does not receive funding through the congressional budgetary process and is largely self-funded through the interest on its massive government securities portfolio, plus its many other activities, we don’t have to worry that this week’s Federal Open Market Committee meeting will fall victim to the partial government shutdown.

But how much will actually happen at the meeting that can be expected to move the financial markets?

One thing we do know is that Fed Chair Jerome Powell will hold a press conference after the meeting ends at 2:00 EST. Last summer Powell announced that he will hold a presser at the end of each of the Fed’s 10 scheduled meetings, not just every three months.

But it’s unlikely that the Fed will raise interest rates at the meeting, after Powell largely put the kibosh on that idea late last year, when under extraordinary pressure from President Trump and just about everyone investor within reach of a microphone he and his Fed colleagues surrendered and said “no mas” to any more monetary tightening for a while. Continue reading "Shutdown Or Not, The Fed Abides"

Amigos 1 & 2 Arrive, #3 Is Still Out There

The 3 Amigos were a blogger’s way of not boring himself to death while fleshing out important macro indicators month after month.

Amigo #1 (SPX/Gold ratio) got home and dropped from target. What’s more, it has taken back the ratio’s equivalent of the entire Trump rally and that is an eventuality we are very open to on nominal SPX as well.

The gaps are interesting and among several possibilities for 2019 we could see fear, loathing and a fill of the lower gap (a greed gap of sorts) prior to a filling of the upper gap, which could blow out the stock bull in manic fashion one day. Relax, it’s just one of several possible roadmaps. For now, we simply state that SPX/Gold reached a very viable target and dutifully dropped with the market stress.

Yield

Amigo #2 (30yr Treasury yield AKA the Continuum) got the bond bears on the wrong side of the boat and kept them there for a couple of months before the big reversal (back below the monthly EMA 100) that came along with the risk ‘off’ rush amid Q4 2018’s market stress. Continue reading "Amigos 1 & 2 Arrive, #3 Is Still Out There"

The Fed's New Dual Mandate

As most of us probably know by now, the Federal Reserve operates under a “dual” mandate from Congress to “promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.” (Leave it to the federal government to give a “dual” mandate three goals. But I digress).

Since the Fed effectively gets its mandate from Congress, it stands to reason that Congress can also change the mandate if it wants. Forthwith, I am humbly suggesting that it do just that. Namely, the word “moderate” should be replaced by the words “zero percent,” while the Fed will be given a new directive to ensure that stock prices rise by at least 8% a year. Given this new command, the “stable prices” mandate may have to go, but I’m sure reasonable people can agree that’s a small price to pay (no pun intended) for a guarantee against any investor losing money.

I’m confident that this is one thing that President Trump, who says he’s a “low-interest person,” and the Democrats in Congress, who need lots of wealthy people to support their socialist agenda, can wholeheartedly embrace. I’m sure Fed chair Jerome Powell and his successors will be happy, too, since it will forever protect them from any political criticism. Continue reading "The Fed's New Dual Mandate"