They’re printing money because they’re scared of what might happen if they don’t. -Albert Edwards
As you are probably already well aware, the Fed decided not to taper it’s $85 billion per month of bond purchases just yet. This threw most market watchers for a loop as Ben Bernanke had made it pretty clear leading up to the announcement that the Fed had every intention of beginning the process of removing this latest round of quantitative easing.
What I find interesting is that, as Stan Druckenmiller suggests, the Fed had primed the market for this tapering in bond purchases and essentially had a freebie to get it started yet they decided not to use it. Why?
Clearly, if the economy is not recovering like the Fed would hope then the $85 billion in money printing per month is just not working in the way that they hoped. The one way it has been effective is in boosting asset prices, making the rich richer but doing nothing for the unemployed. For this reason I asked on Twitter yesterday:
Minyanville’s Todd Harrison, who you can see in the new documentary about the Fed “Money For Nothing” (now in theaters), responded with a third reason and I totally agree. The Fed is now trapped. It’s printing $85 billion per month which is having very little if any positive effect on the economy yet it can’t stop without risking major repercussions.
As Stan Druckenmiller recently told Bloomberg:
If you didn’t believe before that the exit was gonna be tough, the mere hint that maybe in 3 months, if the economy’s good, we might go from 85 billion a month to buying 65 billion a month caused that kind of havoc and risk around the world how in the world does anybody think that when the actual exit actually happens prices are not gonna respond? It’s silly.
Ben Bernanke & Co. were clearly listening. Long-term interest rates nearly doubled on the mere mention of tapering while a few emerging markets saw their stock prices crash and foreign currencies went nuts. So the decision not to taper probably had less to do with the data and much to do with Fed officials fearing the ramifications of actually removing QE even to a small degree.
So we have a Fed fearful of what might happen to the markets and economy if QE is removed and, in stark contrast, investors celebrating the decision by pushing stock prices to new highs. If this isn’t the height of irony I don’t know what is.
At some point Mr. Market is going to realize that this isn’t at all bullish. In fact, the decision not to taper after laying all the groundwork may end up being an inflection point for investor confidence in the Fed. Fortune magazine ran an article earlier this week with the headline, “The Fed Has Lost All Credibility.” It concludes:
Lately it has been getting harder to believe Bernanke. He was continuing to say that the Fed won’t raise interest rates until mid-2015, yet by the Fed’s estimates and others, the unemployment rate by that point would be getting close to 6%, past where most people expect the Fed to raise interest rates. Wednesday’s taper two-step will diminish Bernanke and the Fed’s credibility further. The market went up today because it caught Bernanke in a lie. That will make it harder for Bernanke, and the Fed, to claim it really means it next time. So much for the power of communication.
I’ve been warning for months that when the Fed’s “confidence game” comes to an end it won’t be pretty for the markets. And the endgame may now be in sight.
Posts from earlier this week: