Submitted by Derrick Wulf via NoEasyTrade blog,
Reading between the lines of recent Fed communications, it’s becoming increasingly clear to me that the Fed wants to exit its quantitative easing policies as soon as possible. Though they’re loath to admit it, the architects of quantitative easing now recognize that their efforts are achieving diminishing marginal returns while at the same time building up massive imbalances, distortions, and speculative excesses in the capital markets. Moreover, they’re realizing that the eventual exit costs are also likely much higher than they had previously thought, and continue to rise with each new asset purchase. Never was this more clear than when the Fed first hinted at tapering its large scale asset purchases over the summer: equity prices fell, interest rates rose, volatility increased, and huge sums of hot money were repatriated from various emerging markets, causing significant disruptions to local overseas economies and currencies in the process.
The market’s strong reaction to the mere hint of a taper also threw cold water on the widely held belief among Fed officials that the primary impact of their asset purchases comes through the accumulated “stock” of their holdings rather than the ongoing “flow” of purchases. This sudden and unexpected realization among policymakers has forced a complete rethink of their strategy. Indeed, one of the most basic premises of their monetary policy assumptions has been shown to be false. Markets are, in fact, forward looking.
Fearing the economic impact of an unwanted tightening of financial conditions, the Fed quickly stepped back from the tapering abyss in September. Since then, FOMC officials, along with their staff researchers and economists, have been working diligently on devising a new strategy, floating numerous trial balloons along the way. Their primary objective is to allow for a taper and ultimate exit from QE while somehow minimizing the flow impacts of such a shift in policy. There has been a renewed focus on the Fed’s other policy tools – namely the overnight lending rates and forward guidance – as a means to that end. There have been active discussions about lowering unemployment thresholds, increasing inflation tolerances through “optimal control,” and cutting interest on excess reserves to help guide market expectations towards a lower future path of interest rates.
It is my belief that one or more of these options is likely to be adopted alongside a modest tapering of asset purchases, perhaps even as early as December. While central bank officials don’t want to disrupt the fragile economic recovery through a premature tightening of monetary policy, they are also well aware that the longer they wait, the more difficult it will become later on. In a word, they’re starting to feel trapped. They want to wriggle themselves free of this as soon as conditions will possibly allow.
I expect to see more public comments and newspaper articles indicating as much in the coming days and weeks. Economic data – namely the November employment report – will clearly play a very important role in shaping expectations as well, but barring a material deterioration in the employment and growth outlook, I expect a tapering announcement, coupled perhaps with an IOER cut or more aggressive forward guidance, to come sooner rather than later.
Implications for the markets, which may not yet be fully prepared for this outcome, are likely to be significant. In short, I would expect yield curves to steepen, the dollar to strengthen, equities to fall, credit spreads to widen, commodities to weaken (the metals in particular), and volatility to rise. How the Fed will then respond to these developments will be very telling indeed. Their hand will be forced, and we may all soon learn how strong the QE trap has become.
My preferred strategy until then is to buy inexpensive volatility, either directly or indirectly through longer-dated options, and to continue to trade the Euro and Yen from the short side.
I also like maintaining a core curve steepener, preferably in 5s / 30s (or long FVZ against a duration-neutral USZ short), and establishing some equity shorts near trend resistance around 1810 in ESZ (see yesterday’s note for charts). On the curve, with 5s / 30s now having cleared resistance at 240, I expect to see 300 tested again before much longer, with new wides to follow.
The first two major episodes of the current multi-year steepening trend – the crisis and the response – both widened the 5s / 30s curve by 200 basis points. If the third episode, the exit, follows a similar trajectory, we could see eventually see 5s / 30s hit 390.