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Friday, June 28, 2013

Sprott - Have We Lost Control...Yet?

By Eric Sprott & Etienne Bordeleau

Recent comments by the Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke have shocked the world financial markets. It all started on May 22nd, 2013, at a Testimony to the US Congress Joint Economic Committee, where he first hinted at tapering the Fed’s quantitative easing (QE) program. Then, on Wednesday, June 19th, during the press conference following the FOMC meeting, the Chairman outlined the Fed’s exit strategy from QE.

Since the first allusion to tapering, volatility has been on the rise across the board (stocks, currencies and bonds) (Figure 1A). Moreover, the yield starved, hot money that had flown to emerging markets has been rushing for the exits, triggering significant declines in emerging market (EM) equity and bond markets (Figure 1B). Finally, the prospect of the end of monetary accommodation has triggered rapid and significant decreases (increases) in the price (yield) of longer dated Treasury bonds (also Figure 1B).

It has been clear to us for some time that the Fed was uncomfortable with the relative certainty (i.e. Bernanke Put) that has prevailed in the markets since the introduction of QE-infinity last fall. Officials definitely wanted the market to start thinking about a future without non-conventional monetary policy. However, we seriously doubt that the resulting chaos is what they had anticipated. This was evident in the Chairman’s response to a journalist’s question about the rapid rise in rates, saying the FOMC was “a little puzzled by that”.1 The genie is really out of the bottle now.

Indeed, we believe that the recent “market appeasement rhetoric” by James Bullard and Narayana Kocherlakota (Presidents of the St. Louis and Minneapolis Federal Reserve, respectively)2,3 are further proof that the Federal Reserve has realized it went too far and that it is now in damage control mode. (Update: William Dudley, President of the New York Fed mentioned in a June 27th speech that “asset purchases would continue at a higher pace for longer” if the economy was to grow slower than the FOMC’s estimate)4.

However, as the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) so elegantly put it in its most recent annual report, “[…] central banks continue to borrow time for others to act. But the cost-benefit balance is inexorably becoming less and less favourable.” To this they add: 

“expectation that monetary policy can solve these problems [deleveraging, financial stability] is a recipe for failure”.5 Clearly, the Federal Reserve knows this and wants to exit their QE program. But can they really?
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