The Economy: Central Banks have again re-emerged as the biggest influence on financial markets. This follows a period, earlier this year, when global politics ruled. Since then, global and national politics have resumed their traditional role of all talk, no action; all hat, no cattle. Gridlock. Obstructionist, Stumblebum Democrats. Obstructionist, Stumblebum Republicans. “This time is different” turned on its head once again. So we’re back to relying on Fed Chair Yellen to provide us with our daily diet of comedic relief. This year the Fed has convinced markets that interest rates were going up to preserve the integrity of the financial system. In last week’s Congressional testimony, Yellen backtracked on that carefully crafted plan. Now markets are convinced that we’ll see lower for longer in interest rates. The Fed’s inability to adhere to any type of Monetary Policy other than whimsy, has again proven to be the case. Stocks and real estate continue their run to infinity and beyond.
Food for Thought: Free money continues to be the official policy of the Fed. Savers have gotten crushed for 8-years. Markets have levitated. According to some, the FANGs now account for 30% of stock market returns. We saw it in the 60s with the Nifty Fifty. Stocks and real estate have been immune to shocks of any kind. So there is now an entire generation of investors who are convinced that markets only go up. There are bold investors and there are old investors but there are no bold, old investors. We continue to see a disconnect between an expanding economy and the need for unceasing stimulus. More Cowbell! It is a no-win situation. With markets relentlessly rising you have to stay on the dance floor. Keep dancing but do it closer to the door.
Music of the Week: Steely Dan’s “Everything Must Go”
The Economy: The news has been all about the Fed. Trump made it clear during the election that he wanted to remake both the Supreme Court and the Federal Reserve. Word is that Randy Quarles will be Trump’s nominee as Vice Chair and the Fed’s Bank Supervisor. He comes from the private equity/private investment world. Quarles is considered to be a conservative counterweight to Yellen. Quarles would bring a fresh perspective to the Fed which has become dominated by academicians with little real world experience. Speculation has also focused on replacing Fed Chair Yellen in 2018. Trump’s Fed Chair nominee is expected to be National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn. Cohn comes from the investment banking world and would be the first Fed chair in 40-years who isn’t an economist. Within the Trump administration this is viewed as a plus since Trump wants practical experience over academic credentials. The downside is that Cohn is another Goldman Sachs alumnus; all of whom are detested by Trump’s core followers. Regardless of the accuracy of these reports, it’s obvious that Trump is determined to put a different Fed in place. A Fed that is more oriented towards pro-growth real world experience.
Food for Thought: Whenever we get out in the economy we’re impressed with how robust it looks. Restaurants are packed with diners day and night. Real estate continues to appreciate. New cars flood the streets. Everyone seems to be taking extended vacations. Yet in her Congressional testimony today, Fed Chair Yellen was surprisingly dovish. She expressed concern that inflation was below expectations and implied that the economy wasn’t performing as well as expected. Financial markets loved this narrative as it indicated that Yellen would keep her highly stimulative policies in place rather than continuing to turn off the spigots. But sooner or later the stimulus must end. It’s the human condition to project the recent past into the future; to assume that the future is going to unfold like the past. So it’s always interesting to hear a well-respected figure like Jamie Dimon, CEO JPMorgan speak candidly about the ongoing change in monetary policy. Commenting on the Feds move to end 8+ years of stimulus, he said, “We act like we know exactly how it’s going to happen and we don’t.”
Music of the Week: Josef Franz Wagner’s “Across the Pond”