Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Fed Clarifies Position on Bond Purchases; Markets Hate It

The widely-anticipated June FOMC meeting was worth the wait, as Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke and his merry bank of economic soothsayers proved once and for all that they haven't got a clue what they're doing and that the market controls their actions, not the other way around.

Key take-aways from the policy decision (unchanged) and Bernanke's press conference were that the Fed saw downside risks to the economy "diminished," and that asset purchases - given improved economic conditions (pipe dream) - the Fed would begin to unwind, or, taper, those purchases from the current monthly level of $85 billion a month by the end of this year and end them completely by the middle of 2014.

This, of course, will never happen, as economic conditions are not improving, and, even if they are, are not improving quickly enough to warrant removal of the Fed's substantial monetary stimulus.

Market reaction was a bit slow to coalesce, but when it finally got the drift of what Bernanke was saying, sold off hard, with both stocks and bonds going into the tank. The Dow suffered one of its worst days of the year, off more than 200 points, while bond yields rose to 14-month highs on the ten-year note, at 2.33% and two-year highs on the five (1.26%).

What Bernanke didn't say was almost as intriguing as what he did, refusing to comment on why he is not going to attend the annual summit at Jackson Hole, sponsored by the Kansas City Fed, or whether or not he had plans to retire when his term expires early next year, though it appears, especially after President Obama's off-the-cuff remarks to Charlie Rose two nights ago, that the Chairman's tenure is at an end.

Bernanke did make one other clarification of note, that the Fed would hold its mortgage-backed securities to maturity, rather than sell them into the secondary market. Again, what he didn't say may be notable, as the decision to hold to maturity may be predicated on these securities (some of which are toxic to some degree or another) may not have the value at which the Fed is holding, or, since the Fed is pretty much 60% or more of the entire MBS market, maybe there is no secondary market of value.

Overall, it was a constructive session on the markets, but one which, unfortunately for bulls, appears to be in furtherance of the downward trend in equities.

With today's selloff, the bias has returned to the sell side and it seems as if the smart money is getting out while the getting is good.

Dow 15,112.19, -206.04 (1.35%)
NASDAQ 3,443.20, -38.98 (1.12%)
S&P 500 1,628.93, -22.88 (1.39%)
NYSE Composite 9,255.71, -143.93 (1.53%)
NASDAQ Volume 1,698,203,375
NYSE Volume 4,021,718,750
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 1357-5161
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 254-125
WTI crude oil: 97.97, -0.47
Gold: 1,350.20, -16.70
Silver: 21.25, -0.427

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