Fed Moves: What It Means For Investors

Posted by Eddy Elfenbein - Crossing Wall Street

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The Debate Raging within the Federal Reserve

There’s a debate raging within the Federal Reserve as to what to do about the “Evans Rule.” This was guidance adopted by the Fed, at the urging of Chicago Fed President Charles Evans, as to what specific metric would cause the Fed to raise short-term interest rates. The Fed said that it would use an unemployment rate of 6.5%. Previous Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke was careful to warn that this was a threshold and not a trigger.

The problem is that unemployment has already declined to 6.6%, and no one’s even close to raising interest rates. Most FOMC members don’t see a rate increase happening until 2015 or 2016. There are even some folks who say that low rates are here to stay and the Fed’s use of Quantitative Easing will become its primary tool to fine-tune the economy. That’s probably too extreme, but it’s being talked about.

The minutes released this week covered the Fed’s January meeting. Interestingly, the Fed`s members were surprised at the economy’s strength. That obviously contributed to the decision to gradually pare back their massive bond-buying program. But what’s interesting is that the central bank is showing no signs of backing away from taper plans, even though the last two jobs reports weren’t so hot.

Strangely, the Fed is as undecided about when to raise short-term rates as it is stubborn about tapering,. In fact, the Fed may even back away from using a specific number, like Evans had suggested, and fall back on using garbled econo-speak. On the one hand, this doesn’t lead the markets to false expectations. Some FOMC members favor this direction but it adds a layer of opaqueness to the Fed’s deliberations.

The Fed may elect to lower the threshold. Narayana Kocherlakota, the president of the Minneapolis Fed, wants to go down to 5.5%. I think some voting members want to get rid of a precise number altogether. As I said, markets will find something to fret about. Of course, all of this is complicated by the Fed`s having a new boss in Janet Yellen. The Fed’s next meeting, and the first one under Yellen, will be on March 18 and 19.

What this means for investors: The Fed is still clearly on the side of investors. Quantitative Easing is with us, and will be for several more months. The pace of stimulus, however, will gradually decline. The curveball about QE is that it impacts the long end of the yield curve, while traditional Fed stimulus is at the short end. Higher long-term rates could impede sectors like housing, but I doubt we’ll see much impact, although we’ve seen mortgage financing take a hit. The simple fact is that housing inventory is lean, and the market needs more homes. Bad weather may delay that fact, but it won’t change it.

imagesThis is good news for the economy and the stock market in general. I think it’s very likely that 2014 will be one of the strongest years for economic growth in a long time. I won’t go so far as predicting a bond market sell-off, but I do think the long-end of the curve is a bad place for investors. The yields are just too measly, and the math is squarely on the side of stock “longs.” Continue to focus your portfolio on high-quality stocks such as our Buy List. If the Evans Rule is altered or dropped, it could propel the market much higher. Now let’s look at some of our Buy List earnings from this week.

About Crossing Wall Street
Named by CNN/Money as the best buy-and-hold blogger, Eddy Elfenbein is the editor of Crossing Wall Street. His free Buy List has beaten the S&P 500 for the last seven years in a row. This email was sent by Eddy Elfenbein through Crossing Wall Street.