Can The Fed Save The Market?

| May 21, 2012 | 0 Comments

Federal ReserveWell, this hasn’t been the May most investors hoped for.  In fact, it’s been pretty much an unmitigated disaster.

For a good point of reference on how painful May has been so far, just look at the S&P 500.  The bellwether index has essentially gone from 1,400 to 1,300 in two weeks.  Ouch.

The pummeling is mostly driven by Europe and the re-igniting of the debt crisis.  This time, the spark came from elections in Greece and France.  And, we’re once again teetering on the brink of a full-blown crisis.

Here’s the thing…

Over the past couple years, when market turmoil starting getting out of hand, the Fed stepped in to save us. 

They used traditional methods, such as interest rate cuts and discount window lending.  Plus, they employed a whole new set of tools with fancy names like quantitative easing and Operation Twist.

Now, the Fed’s actions haven’t had obvious effects on the economy as a whole… but they certainly boosted asset values.   For several reasons I won’t get into here, investors have reacted very bullishly to Fed intervention.

But can they do it again?  Can the Fed save the stock market one more time?

From what I’ve read, the Fed is considering renewing Operation Twist rather than focusing on another round of quantitative easing.

That means they’ll be selling short-term bonds and using the proceeds to buy long-term issues.  The goal is to push down long rates so things like mortgage rates remain historically cheap.

While that’s good news for real estate buyers/investors or those looking to refinance, it hasn’t been as good to the markets as pure quantitative easing (such as outright bond and mortgage backed securities purchases).

However, quantitative easing has drawn the ire of politicians.  There have been many vocal critics.

Meanwhile, Operation Twist has pretty much been left alone in terms of criticism.  That’s because it doesn’t involve “printing” new money, just shifting it between existing assets.

In other words, the Fed may be caught up in the politics of an election year.  So, it’s very possible we won’t see any more QEs before the election.

That’s the bad news.  Whether or not you agree with quantitative easing, you can’t argue about its impact on stocks. And the global economic story isn’t getting any better.

Here’s the silver lining…

It looks like the Fed believes more action is needed to help the economy.  Even if that help comes in the form of Operation Twist, it’s better than nothing.  Lower long-term rates are useful for many people… particularly those looking to buy or refinance their homes.

Unfortunately, we might not see the bullish action in the market we’ve come to expect from the QE programs.  You can thank politics for that.  This time around, stocks may have to get a boost from some other source.

Yours in profit,

Gordon Lewis

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