5 Things To Ponder This Weekend - The Taper Edition

Submitted by Lance Roberts of STA Wealth Management,

This past week the Federal Reserve began tapering their current large scale asset purchase (LSAP) program, more commonly referred to as Quantitative Easing (QE), by trimming $10 billion in bond purchases from the previous monthly totals.  This week's "Things To Ponder" is a diverse set of views on the potential effect of the taper on the financial markets and the impact to investors.  Regardless of your personal expectations as to the impact of the reduction of liquidity in the months ahead, it is always a good mental exercise to consider opposing viewpoints to balance your own views by eliminating confirmation bias.  Here are 5 disparate views on the effect, and potential outcome, of the Federal Reserve's latest move.

1) The Fed Is Just Winging It Now by Jeffrey Snider, Alhambra Partners

I have discussed in the past that the Fed's primary concern are the deflationary pressures that continue to plague the economy.  (See here and here)  Jeffrey did a terrific job discussing this point, and the entire post is well worth your time reading.

"In the wake of finally (FINALLY) reaching the primary taper point, it is worth remembering exactly what QE was supposed to do. QE is the 'extraordinary' policy tool that accompanies ZIRP. That mystical lower bound of 0% rates is believed penetrable by jiggering with inflation expectations. Thus, QE is meant as a means to increase inflation expectations, leading to negative real interest rates – and economic panacea/utopia from there.

 

Instead of that, we still have ZIRP now almost for five full years and inflation behaving very much contrary to modeled and publicized expectations. That is true not only in the CPI, but in nearly every official measure of inflation. That would make this a curious development in the light, again, of what QE was supposed to accomplish."

ABOOK-Dec-2013-CPIPPI-CPIu

2) Fed Taper Begins, What Happen's Next by Mohammed El-Erian

Mohammed points to four reasons why the Fed's actions make sense:

1) Fed is right to be more confident of the economy.

2) Fed's confidence is not overwhelming, just better.

3) Mixed outlook calls for delicate policy balance.

4) Fed still has room to lower the overnight lending rates.

"Investors are right to take all this to mean that the Fed remains highly committed to supporting an improving economy — and, since it seemingly can only do so through 'the asset channel,' the institution thus remains committed to supporting markets.

This is particularly good news for equity markets in the short-term, building on what already has been a great performance year. It also contains the disruptions to bonds."

3) Post-FOMC Strategy by Doug Kass

Doug does a good analysis of the Federal Reserve's QE program.

"1) QE has provided a stock market put and has also prevented the natural discovery of prices in both the stock and bond markets.

 

2) The general belief is that the U.S. stock market will be able to overcome the reduction in bond buying.

 

3) The critical questions are whether the economy can handle higher interest rates and whether stocks can rally in the face of a less liquidity.

 

4) The addiction to low interest rates runs deep with consumers, corporations in the private sector and our government in terms of financing the U.S. deficit, which will weigh on optimistic growth expectations and the consensus view that stocks will rise further.

 

5) The domestic economy is heavily doped up by abnormally low interest rates and monetary accommodation.

 

6) Monetary policy (the Fed) has been needed to support growth in our domestic economy. With that monetary support moderating coupled with the lack of fiscal responsibility and the inability of Democrats and Republicans to come together, more uncertainty than less certainty of policy lies ahead.

This should be valuation-deflating.

 

To a person, the talking heads in the media who provided instant analysis of the Fed's tapering decision were bullish late yesterday afternoon. Not surprisingly, many of the same commentators who were bullish after a 300-point rise in the DJIA had previously cautioned about the market's likely adverse response to a tapering.

 

It is for the reasons listed above (and others) that I shorted yesterday's market rip and moved from a market-neutral stance to a net 10% short position. (I have since shifted back to neutral.)

 

What keeps me from moving more aggressively short is that I have learned to be respectful of the market's unbelievable price momentum, and frankly, I don't know the timing of a downturn/correction with any degree of certainty or precision.

 

That I am certain of is, as The Oracle wrote, it might shortly 'be time to be fearful when others are greedy.'"

4)  5 Reasons Stocks Didn't Suffer A Taper Tantrum by Adam Shell, USA Today 

"The past two times the Fed warned of tapering, the Dow fell — 4.9% back in May and June, and 5.6% in August. The declines were dubbed 'Taper Tantrum 1' and 'Taper Tantrum 2.'

 

So why did stocks go up when most pundits figured they would go down?

 

Here are five theories why the first taper didn't tank the stock market:

 

1. It signals the Fed's faith in the recovery.

2. It reduces uncertainty.

3. It amounts to 'Taper Lite.'

4. It caught Wall Street off guard.

5. It doesn't change the Fed's dovish stance.

 

The takeaway: The Fed will remain highly accommodative for years."

5) The Taper Morning After: A Full Summary Of What "They" Are Saying via Zero Hedge

"Strategists were largely wrong about the yes taper in September, and then they were just as largely wrong about the no taper in December, and yet their opinion is just as largely gospel and people continue to listen to them (what else is there to be distracted by in a still very much centrally-planned market and economy). Which is why the below summary by Bloomberg of what global financial strategists and investors, also known as "they", are saying about how to trade assets in the post-taper world, should probably be taken, largely, with a grain of salt."

Views from PIMCO, BlackRock, HSBC, UBS, Morgan Stanley, SocGen and others.  It's a good read particularly if you have a currency bias in your portfolio.

Chart Of The Week - What Difference Does $10 Billion A Month Make

The chart below shows the Federal Reserve's balance sheet as compared to the S&P 500 with both being projected through the end of 2016.  The dashed lines denote the projected expansion of the balance sheet, and the correlated rise in asset prices, both before and after the Federal Reserve's most recent "taper."

Fed-Balance-Sheet-VS-SP500-122013

Wishing you a very happy holiday season and a merry Christmas.

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