The “Secret” Reason Yellen Doesn’t Want to Raise Rates. Special Fed Meeting Update

I believe there is a “secret” behind the Fed being slow to hike short-term interest rates. I will get to that in a minute.

Today’s Meeting

Let’s start with non-controversial items first. The Federal Reserve Open Market Committee concludes their two day meeting with an announcement at 2 pm that interest rates will not change today. That’s what the markets are expecting. There has been all kinds of hot air coming from several Fed officials that rates need to rise now, but Chair Janet Yellen has been on the other side, sticking with her more accommodative stance. It would be very hard to believe that the majority of voting members would overtly vote against their chair.

The statement comes next and because it’s not one of the quarterly press conference meetings, it’s even further unlikely that Yellen & Co. will raise rates without releasing their updated forecast and answer questions. Regarding the verbiage, there is no consensus on what will be released.

Looking at the calendar, the most likely opportunities for the Fed to raise interest rates are at the June and December meetings which include the quarterly update. I took September off the table because it’s too close to the election and without a clear and present crisis to fight, it’s unlikely the Fed would move so close to election day.

My own stance remains unchanged since 2008. That is that the Fed should not raise rates at all until the other side of the next recession. I wasn’t referring to getting through the Great Recession. I meant the mild one that should come next this decade. After that recession, I believe interest rates will go on a 25-40 year bull market with inflation finally becoming commonplace again.

That forecast also coincides with the final crisis in Europe later this decade. One way or another, with or without the Euro, Europe’s rubber meets the road this decade. Kicking can is no longer possible. There will likely be defaults and reorganizations, but Europe should become a great place to invest in the 2020s.

Yellen & Co. Set a Precedent
Getting back to the subject line of this update, I firmly believe that the Fed’s main reason for not raising rates isn’t all that transparent. However, the “secret” I call it isn’t nefarious or with some conspiracy laden ulterior motive.

Yellen is in a tough spot. The U.S. economy is certainly strong enough to withstand a rate hike or two. It’s hard to argue that although the Fed did set all kinds of precedents in December with that increase.

  • First rate hike ever with inflation under 1%.
  • First rate hike ever with the annual social security COLA at 0%.
  • First rate hike ever with wage growth needing to jump 100% to hit the Fed’s target.
  • First rate hike ever with industrial production on the verge of recessionary levels.
  • First rate hike ever with GDP barely 2%.
  • First rate hike ever with inflation expectations close to 0%.
  • First rate hike ever with retail sales closer to recession than escape velocity.
  • First rate hike ever with non-farm payroll job growth continuing to decelerate.
The “Secret”
Anyway, if Yellen & Co. hike rates now or soon given what’s going on in Europe and Japan with negative interest rates, the Euro and Yen would likely fall precipitously, meaning that the U.S. dollar would strengthen dramatically. This would almost certainly lead to an enormous flight of capital out of Europe and Japan and into the U.S. Remember, capital always flows to where its treated best.

Before the financial markets were truly global, you can see how this occurred in the early to mid 1980s as the dollar soared to its highest levels of all-time. Massive capital inflows would first go into the dollar and then typically into shorter-term treasury instruments. In the 1980s, we also saw flows into large cap, blue chip stocks, which I can see happening this decade and fueling the Dow into the 20,000s.

In the 1980s, these capital inflows helped fuel the nearly vertical rise in our stock market. However, eventually, when there are enormous capital flows to one system and out of others, market dislocations grow and grow and grow. Look at how sharply the dollar began to collapse from 1985 to late 1987.

When newly appointed Fed chair, Alan Greenspan, raised rates in August 1987, the dollar still fell as stocks peaked. As the stock market began to unravel in mid-October, then Treasury Secretary, James Baker, famously warned on the morning of the October 19th crash that the U.S. was not going to intervene and support the dollar. With portfolio insurance to add fuel to the fire, our stock market crashed.

I believe the Fed fears a much worse inflow of capital into this country which may be good in the short-term, but disastrous long-term. There is much more global capital today and our financial system is much more linked than ever. Money can flow around at warp speed.

Should we see a torrent of capital flow into the U.S., these kinds of events rarely, if ever, end well. See Japan since 1990 as one piece of evidence. Should our dollar resume its secular bull market, which I think it will by 2017, we may be looking at a major global financial market dislocation later this decade as a result, something the Fed doesn’t want to contribute to.

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Stocks Growing Tired

With the major indices going vertical since October 9, I am starting to see some signs of tiring. “Tiring” is a lot different than forecasting a full fledged correction or even a deep pullback. It just means that the odds favor either some sideways action to help restart the engine or some sort of mild price decline to shake out the Johnny Come Latelys.

During this rally, we saw the S&P 500, S&P 400 and Russell 2000 hit all time highs with the NASDAQ at its highest levels since 2000. The Dow has been the laggard index, but I do expect that to get in gear after this pullback and also see new highs.

Gold has cooperated nicely from the recent bullish call and I think more upside is ahead for the shiny metal. As I have discussed all year, especially of late, this is the bond market rally I have been waiting for. The train began to leave the station in late August and September and is now in full motion. Treasuries, quality corporates and government bonds all look higher, especially if they see the slightest bit of weakness first. Our clients have owned high yield bonds for some time and that rally has been the strongest so far and may be growing a bit tired itself.

The US dollar has been under pressure for almost four months and it looks like a major bottom is about to be formed this quarter. My long, long-term view remains very, very positive for the greenback. Uncharacteristically, energy has been hit hard even though we have seen dollar weakness. That indicates strong selling beneath the surface with even lower prices to come.

I am about to start working on a Canaries in the Coal Mine update and I hope to post it on Friday.

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Bernanke’s Worry Lines & CNBC’s Closing Bell

I will on CNBC’s Closing Bell today, Friday, at 4:00pm discussing the lack of any taper from the Fed, what they see that the masses don’t and where the markets are ahead.

Earlier this week in Street$marts (click on link to see) and on my blog, I spelled out the three scenarios that could result from the Fed meeting. While I did not believe any taper was warranted, the market was expecting a token $10-$15 billion. When Bernanke & Company did nothing, risk assets soared, almost as if the heroine addict was given a reprieve from going to rehab.

In my view, the Fed clearly sees something that the masses do not and I have long argued that the markets and economy cannot stand on their own two feet without support. With Janet Yellen (thankfully) seemingly a shoe in to succeed Bernanke, it will be interesting to see if the Fed even tapers at all before she takes office in January.

The Fed’s lack of stimulus reduction does little to change my intermediate-term outlook. It does not make me any more bullish than I already am. I continue to believe that after the next pullback which I expect over the coming 4-8 weeks, stocks should rocket to fresh all time highs well north of 16,000 during the first quarter of 2014.

Regarding bonds as I have written about before, I was waiting for the taper to signal an all clear to buy bonds because negative sentiment had risen to record levels. Anyone even thinking about selling would have done so. It would have been the classic case of the selling the rumor and buying the news. While I am still positive on bonds over the intermediate-term, my conviction is not as high as it would have been had the Fed cut back its purchases.

Bonds are in a bottoming process that should lead to a significant rally sooner than later.

The dollar finally breached its June low which I have been patiently waiting for. I remain (as I have since March 2008) very positive, long-term on the greenback. While it may not be rosy in the U.S., it’s still the best house in a bad neighborhood. I fully expect the dollar to bottom by Thanksgiving and embark on the next leg of a secular (long-term) bull market.

At the same time, that should mean a tailwind for energy prices this fall followed by a significant decline over winter.

Finally, today is the Dow Jones rebalance of Alcoa, Bank of America and Hewlitt being removed and Nike, Goldman and Visa being added. It doesn’t involve a lot of money, but I continue to find it “curious”.

Have a great weekend!

In CT, it’s fall country fair time, apple picking, softball and tee ball for my kids and a celebratory dinner for my closest friend on Saturday. With rain in the forecast for Sunday, I hope to get some TV time with the NFL and season ending golf tournament from East Lake in Atlanta.

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