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An interesting twist from the Fed

An Interesting Twist from the Fed—-2/20/2019

Almost all the volatility in the 4th quarter was caused by the Fed Chairman and his clumsy language. And some of those comments focused on the “autopilot” program regarding the Fed’s balance sheet normalization and how the Fed had no intention of stopping that program.

Well, today the Fed said they were going stop the program later this year!!!
https://www.cnbc.com/2019/02/20/the-fed-just-released-minutes-from-its-market-moving-meeting.html

What in the world is going on?

First, the Fed rattles the markets saying they aren’t going to stop this program under any circumstances. And then after the market rallies hard to the upside, they say they are going to stop the program.

I see two possible reasons for this change of heart…

1) the Fed has become totally beholden to asset prices and this move helps ensure prices will move higher (note: this is a total 180 degree turn from Fed Chair Powell’s comments late last year)

2) the economy is much worse than market participants realize and this move will help bolster the economy as it slows.

Not sure which one it is, but it is one of the most interesting moves I’ve seen in the markets for quite some time.

Monster Rally to begin the year

 Monster Rally to Begin the Year…2/19/2019

After one of the worst Decembers in market history and THE worst Christmas Eve trading day EVER, the market has put up some incredible return numbers to begin 2019. As I type this the S&P 500 is up over 10% year to date…and it is only February 19th!! If you annualize those numbers, you get 103%.

I think it is fair to say that it is highly unlikely that the market will posted gains of over 100% for the year. With this in mind, I expect a pullback at some point in the near future. Maybe after a trade deal with China is inked. Why? Well, it seems that every day we get news that trade negotiations are going well and the market moves higher. Before too long, all the good news could be priced into the market and there will be nowhere to go from there.

Regardless of why the market pulls back, I expect that it will. A 103% return for the market just seems unlikely to me for 2019. Nevertheless, we can have a VERY nice year this year.

Apple’s earnings boost market

 Apple’s Earnings Boost Market—1/30/2019

The market was extremely weak in December for many reasons, including earnings fears. One of the biggest earnings fears was related to Apple, given their exposure to China. Nevertheless, Apple released some excellent numbers related to those earnings fears after the bell last night proving that the pessimism was overblown in December.

Given Apple’s weight in many of the indices, this could be a big deal for the markets moving forward.

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/30/apple-beats.html

Another Big Jobs Beat!

 Another Big Jobs Beat!—1/4/2019

The experts were anticipating job growth of 174,000 for the month of December. But the actual number was released today and it was 312,000!!!!

Also, wages jumped 3.2% versus a year ago.

But with these numbers the unemployment rate actually ticked HIGHER, as more people joined the labor force. Which is a great sign for the strength of the economy.

https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/04/nonfarm-payrolls-december-2018.html

Biggest Upside Point Move in the HISTORY of the Dow

Biggest Upside Move in the History of the Dow—12/26/2018

After the worst Christmas Eve trading day EVER, the Dow rallies 1,086 points the day after Christmas to post its biggest upside point move in its history. This move almost doubled the downside move that occurred on Christmas Eve! WOW!!!!!!!!

https://www.cnbc.com/2018/12/26/us-futures-following-christmas-eve-plunge.html

“…fear itself.”

“…fear itself.”—12/24/2018

We are currently living through the worst December since 1931, in terms of returns on the S&P 500. Frankly, other indices are doing worse. But since we all follow the S&P, we will use that as our baseline.

With this type of market performance, emotions can get stirred up. I am certainly not immune to those emotional feelings, but I do have a series of metrics and processes I follow to keep the facts out in front of my emotions. I was going through these processes when I saw clearly what was happening in the markets. When the 4th quarter newsletter comes out, I will talk more in depth about these things. But given the speed of this market sell off, I figured putting together a quick note made a lot of sense.

For starters, on October 3rd the S&P closed at 2,923. The next day it started its decline. And as I type this, it sits at 2,416. That equates to a 17.34% drop in the market. What happened the night of the 3rd to kick start this avalanche of selling? Fed Chair Jay Powell was interviewed by Judy Woodruff. During that interview, he made the comment that “(interest rates) were a long way from neutral.” This implied that the Fed had many more interest rate hikes to go before they reach a stopping point. The market had not priced that in and, therefore, began selling stocks immediately to price it in.

From that point on, several Fed Governors tried to walk that statement back. However, the damage to market psychology was done. The market started to show a little stability before the FOMC meeting last Wednesday. But during his comments after the decision to raise rates, Fed Chair Powell made ANOTHER BLUNDER. This time he was adamant that the automatic program of having $50 billion a month roll off the Fed’s balance sheet wouldn’t be changed, regardless of market conditions. This, of course, spooked the markets again and the sell off intensified.

NY Fed President Williams was then interviewed Friday by CNBC and he beautifully articulated the Fed’s policy regarding the “autopilot” program and how they could, and would, alter it, if necessary. The market responded well to his comments.

These blunders regarding market liquidity are the biggest thing that is scaring the markets. The markets are worried about another 2008 style liquidity crisis. In fact, there is so much worry that Treasury Secretary Mnuchin reached out to the CEO’s of the 6 largest banks over the weekend to check on their operations. All of them reported no problems with operations or liquidity. This makes total sense because the Fed wouldn’t be tightening monetary conditions if it saw anything less than a robust economy. Furthermore, our current set up is vastly different than it was in 2008. For starters, bank balance sheets are WAY stronger. And, perhaps most importantly, the mark-to-market accounting rules have been done away with.

But, in my opinion, the market’s worries are not based in fact. They are based in fear. We all know the saying, “we have nothing to fear, but fear itself.” Well, we are wallowing in fear right now. And, to be frank, I understand why. We have no effective leadership to quell these fears. For example,

-Our Fed Chair got out in front of the entire world and created a worry about over-tightening in the credit markets by his careless comments.

-The President of the United States, just after NY Fed President calmed markets down about a liquidity event, decided not to sign a spending bill and, therefore, threatened a government shutdown.

-Congress then couldn’t get a spending bill passed that included ample border security to satisfy the President and the government, indeed, shutdown.

-These actions may not be linked in terms of their topic, but they are linked in the sense that they create a sense of uncertainty and worry.

You can add antics like this to a long list of faux pas that haven’t help build a sense of comfort and security in our current leadership. Then when you add in tightening credit markets, you have a market that is running on fear.

Having said that, Warren Buffett is known for saying “Be fearful, when people are greedy. And be greedy, when people are fearful.” And as I look at investment ideas, I haven’t seen so many attractively priced investments in a long time.

BUT…before these cheap investments turn around we probably will need something, or someone, to calm the markets down. Most likely, we will have to play the waiting game.

Thank God for NY Fed President Williams!!!

After his 2nd blunder in 3 months, Fed Chair Powell was saved today by NY Fed Presdient Williams.

President Williams was interviewed on CNBC today around 10:10 am. Up until that time the market was up, but trending lower. As he spoke, the market rallied hard to the upside. As I type this, the Dow is up 370 points. I don’t know if it will hold or go up or go down for the rest of the day. But his comments show the Fed isn’t as clueless as the Fed Chair made them seem.

What did he say that was so magical? He simply said that the Fed will change any and all of its plans depending on market data and inputs from market participants. They will raise or lower rates, if necessary. And they would change their stance on balance sheet normalization when necessary.

Thank you, President Williams!!!