Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Fed to Keep Rates Low Through Late 2014; Most Investors Pleased

Ending the first FOMC rate policy meeting of 2012 with a bang, the Federal Reserve announced today no change in their target federal funds rate of 0-0.25%, but the major announcement was that they would keep this same, historically-low rate in effect through "late 2014." The rapid results of the Fed's announcement that they would keep monetary policy ridiculously easy for the next three years were felt immediately in all markets.

The dollar dropped like a rock against most other currencies, especially the Euro.

Bond yields fall dramatically.

Stocks turned from mildly negative to ferociously positive.

Gold, silver, crude oil and most other commodities spiked higher.

Those were the winners. The losers were just about anybody on a fixed income, which includes not only those on Social Security or retirement pensions, but also most workers in the private sector, which has experienced flat to lower labor prices for most of the past decade.

Therein lies the fallacy of the Fed's dual mandate of providing stable prices and full employment. Obviously, on both measures, the Fed has failed badly over recent years and is now in a no-win situation without much flexibility to react to real-time events and unforeseen circumstances.

With yields on money market funds and certificates of deposit at or near record lows, the Fed is encouraging risk, though Americans, still saddled with too much household debt, many with underwater mortgages to go along with stagnant wages, still aren't fully in the mood - nor do many have the wherewithal - to spend freely and get the economy out of the dolorous regime of 1-3% growth.

Business, generally, though there are pockets of severe conditions, are content to keep grinding on, though innovation and new enterprise creation has been somewhat stifled, though not to the degree it has been, especially during the forlorn days of late 2008 and early 2009.

Conditions are generally much better than back then, as major banks have largely re-capitalized, households have paid down a good portion of debt and governments - outside of the petulant federal one - have tightened budgets though labor reductions, better spending discipline and capital controls. The final pieces to the puzzle of a sustained, vibrant recovery rest squarely upon the shoulders of the federal government, which must seriously tackle the issues of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, reducing the annual deficit (a balanced budget, or something close to it, would be a welcome change), restructuring the tax code, reducing needless regulations and implementing fundamental changes in entitlement programs.

The federal government's list of dirty laundry is long and unlikely to be resolved to any great extent in the background of a presidential election year. That is not the Fed's problem, just as the profligate spending of many of the European nations should not be an epidemic for the ECB, though that is exactly what it has become.

The Fed is doing just about everything it can to make the business environment friendly and accommodative while the federal government, though gridlock and ideological differences, fights, kicking and screaming at any and every notion of change.

Americans, on the other hand, are ready for change in a more positive direction, a theme repeatedly stressed in Tuesday night's State of the Union address by President Obama, who outlined a number of measures to get government working for the people again at the federal level, such notions quickly dismissed by political commentators and opponent Republicans as mere politicking.

Sadly, the politics of Washington, DC will not allow for any substantive changes for at least another year, meaning that Americans are stuck with what they've been handed, like it or not, making the matter of improving one's economic conditions a paramount requirement for each individual and family.

How, though can individuals help the economy grow?

Perhaps through being wiser shoppers, better disciplined managers of their own finances and smarter stewards of their own assets, which is not limited to just stocks, bonds, retirement accounts and real estate, but must include a dedication to some basic American principles, such as working hard, saving (though that is tough, but necessary), and making progress and innovation in one's chosen career path.

Working Americans, must shoulder much of the burden, as usual, though the lot of most working Americans (the 80-90% of the labor force with jobs) isn't really all that bad presently, it's the future - along with the repayment of past debts - about which most are overly concerned.

Considering that the worst of the recession is well behind us by now and that the Fed has signaled that conditions are unlikely to change much in the coming three years, the real issue is that of confidence, in one's job, one's future and in America.

It is up to everyone to see to it that the federal government is brought into line with the wishes of the middle class. It's not enough to deride the rich for not paying their fair share of taxes. More emphasis must be placed upon the well-entrenched welfare state. The poor aren't pulling their weight very well, either.

It's not enough to vote for the candidates of choice in November. It is the duty of all Americans to inquire and to become informed about government policies, resist them if necessary, protest them if they are wrong and change them if possible.

The Federal Reserve or the federal government will not make the needed changes to bring America back to a system of individual rights and fairness without hearing from each of us, all of us. It is long past time for Americans to take matters into their own hands, deal with the vagueries and inconsistencies of institutions and turn the tide. We are at an important point of change in our history and individuals must make the difference.

Dow 12,758.85, +83.10 (0.66%)
NASDAQ 2,818.31, +31.67 (1.14%)
S&P 500 1,326.06, +11.41 (0.87%)
NYSE Composite 7,914.81, +74.16 (0.95%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,954,827,375
NYSE Volume 4,410,711,500
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4049-1578
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 239-20
WTI crude oil: 99.40, +0.45
Gold: 1,710.90, +46.40
Silver: 33.28, +1.30

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