The Fed has zero credibility until it raises rates

A lot of hot air, but no substance. That’s what’s been emanating out of the mouths of Federal Reserve officials over the two years about the direction of interest rates — with no follow through of taking rates higher.

As a result the Fed has no more credibility left.  When Fed officials talked about moving rates in the past markets would move with their chatter.

Not so much recently.  Market participants are squelching out the talk and waiting for the Fed to walk the walk.

Fed fractionalizes funds rate to market cheer

The stock market cheered the US central bank’s historic interest rate cut today, surging nearly 5% on the S&P 500 back above 900 to 911.82. The rate cut, combined with continued quantitative easing in Treasury bonds was evident in today’s trading, with a flood out of US dollars in to commodities and other currencies as well as bond yields dropping sharply.

The implications are clear. Inflation will begin in some measure of time, whether it is days, weeks or months. We can see traders already preparing by taking long positions in anything that stands to benefit from the dollar’s fall. Near term we could see the US dollar index fall as low as 72, retesting its prior lows and further confirming the head and shoulders pattern. Commodities and currencies remain attractive buys.

Before we get ahead of ourselves

Much of yesterday’s rally was predicated on a rumor being circulated about the US Treasury planning to price fix new home mortgage interest rates at 4.5% and other whispers.  Many who selectively watch the news or ignore it may fail to fully realize how this short term optimism can impact markets.

We had a sleu of negative economic data yesterday, but it was trumped by the aforementioned rumor and speculation that the TARP be brought back to fund more bailouts.  Today we see terrible same store sales from every chain but Wal-Mart.  We also have unemployment claims at over 500k and factory orders at 10am that promise to be nothing short of terrible.

There will be plenty of Fed speak today.  I can’t for the life of me imagine any optimism they could install after yesterday’s gloomy beige book.  Most of the chatter will probably be about how the Fed wants to avoid cutting to 0% by using quantitative easing strategies, such as buying long bonds and forcing prime interest rates lower.

The futures are weaker by about 2% this morning, giving back much of yesterday’s gains.  Market gains made Tuesday and yesterday are still part of a bear market rally.   Markets are facing the upper resistance line of a falling six month wedge pattern on all major indexes.  Don’t get BULLied!  Remember the trend is your friend.

Bernanke wants to party like its 1999

He plans to potentially cut rates to 0%, creating a liquidity trap, much like our friends in Japan did in the late 90s.    This is an absurd solution to a problem that originated with too much cheap credit availability.  It is also naive to speculate with trillions of dollars, mortgaging our next generation’s future for the mistakes of bankers and regulators.

What if it doesn’t work?

There is a strong likelihood that this “fix” will create stability (not necessarily growth) in other asset classes by sacrificing the dollar.  If it doesn’t work, however, we could see a protracted global depression with many central banks already having expended their monetary policy ammunition prematurely.  Japan’s crisis never technically ended.  Their stock markets never regained their 1990 highs.  Since then they have been in a deflationary environment for 18 years.

Won’t the bail outs help the country?

Probably not.  Capitalism was built on the philosophy of letting the strong prosper and the weak fail.  If a company can not make a profit or has made terrible investment decisions, the tax payer should never be held accountable.  Bailing out the weak also stifles real growth and innovation.   Other companies are usually poised to fill the gaps left behind by the weak companies failing with better products or services.

If it won’t help, why try?

Central planning rarely works, but is often utilized in times of crisis to provide moral support.  We are going down a dangerous road that could end in the socialization of corporate America while leaving the middle class to decay.  The favoritism employed by Treasury and Federal Reserve officials to arbitrarily choose what lives and what dies is the polar opposite of free market capitalism.  It undermines the very framework that could have been the solution to our credit woes.

How do you make money in this environment?

So far short term trading, while risky, seems to be more reliable than any buy and hold approach.  Some folks are playing the double and triple leveraged ETFs based entirely off of technical indicators and having good success.  Others are accumulating positions in commodities for what they expect to be an extremely inflationary environment.  My take is that both strategies are applicable, depending on your risk tolerance, time horizon and availability to watch this volatile market.