Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Fed Tapers Bond Purchases, Loosens Policy Guidance; Markets Love It

In a masterstroke of monetary legerdemain, outgoing Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke delivered a final, resonant chord to his easy money policy of the past five years, announcing a reduction in the level of MBS and treasury bond purchases while simultaneously changing the guidance for rate policy going forward.

What the Fed has decided to do was to strike a delicate balance between the two policy initiatives currently employed. Bond purchases will henceforth be reduced from $85 billion to $75 Billion per month, shaving $5 billion from MBS and $5 billion from treasury purchases.

In its policy statement, however, the Fed took a different direction, emphasizing that the federal funds rate would remain at zero to 0.25% beyond the time at which unemployment falls below 6.5%. In other words, the Fed, as is their usual mode of operation, changed the game or moved the goal posts in terms of policy in order to accommodate a lower amount of bond purchases, in effect, maintaining equilibrium.

What the Fed is saying, somewhat tongue in cheek, is that their bond purchasing program (QE) has not quite brought about the desired results. The economy is not improving as rapidly as they anticipated, if at all, but, in order to not upset capital and equity markets with their bond purchase "tapering," they decided to loosen the language surrounding any future decision to raise interest rates.

It was quite the nifty move by the hands at the Fed, and both bond and stock markets behaved well along the lines anticipated by the manipulators of the world's money supply.

Stocks rose gratuitously, with the Dow and S&P closing at all-time highs; bonds remained distinctly calm. It was the perfect end to a reign of easy money that Bernanke has overseen, and gave the next man up, Janet Yellen, direction in which to pursue the Fed's policy directives.

The long and short of all the hype and hoopla over this final Fed meeting of the year and the last press conference by Mr. Bernanke is that the status quo was maintained and will be maintained for the foreseeable future. During his presser, the Chairman spoke of low inflation through 2016, with unemployment coming down gradually over a similar time period.

While the inflation expectations are well below what the Fed desires (2-2 1/2%), the 6.5% unemployment threshold has essentially been removed from all future Fed calculus.

When the world completes a couple more trips around the sun, at this time two years from now, it's expected that the Fed will no longer be purchasing bonds to the excessive degree it is today, and that unemployment will be much closer to "normalcy" at or near five percent.

In the real world, should everything proceed as the Fed anticipates, the economy, with interest rates still moored at zero, with 5% unemployment, the economy would be growing at a ripping rate so rapid that inflation would once again become a real problem.

Would it be so. The chances of everything working in straight lines toward a normalized economy is nothing more than a Fed fantasy. There will be disruptions and distortions and quite possibly another recession. Additionally, believing that pressures and changes from other parts of the planet would not be disruptive, is the purest height of folly.

The Fed hasn't really changed much at all. Reducing bond purchases by $10 billion per month is nothing more than a rounding error in the larger scheme of things. The punchbowl of free fiat has been left at the Wall Street party. Nothing has changed other than possibly, perception, and the person sitting in the Fed chair will be different.

The monetary can just got kicked down the road quite a stretch further. The new normal gets extended until something breaks.

DOW 16,167.97, +292.71 (+1.84%)
NASDAQ 4,070.06, +46.38 (+1.15%)
S&P 1,810.65, +29.65 (+1.66%)
10-Yr Note 98.78, -0.29 (-0.29%) Yield: 2.89%
NASDAQ Volume 1.83 Bil
NYSE Volume 3.74 Bil
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ Advance - Decline: 4252-1467
Combined NYSE & NASDAQ New highs - New lows: 311-112
WTI crude oil: 97.80, +0.58
Gold: 1,235.00, +4.90
Silver: 20.06, +0.219
Corn: 425.00, -1.75

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