Most investors have been lamenting the recent stock market swoon. The Dow Jones Industrial Average has given up all of the gains earned during 2012. The economic reports keep getting worse by the day. Yet, for some people all of this is good news . . .
You might find them scattered along the curbs of Wall Street . . . with glazed eyes . . . British teeth . . . and mysterious lesions on their skin. They approach Wall Street’s upscale-appearing pedestrians, making such requests as: “POMO?” . . . “Late-day rally?” . . . “Animal Spirits?” These desperate souls are the “POMO junkies”. Since the Federal Reserve concluded the last phase of quantitative easing in June of 2011, the POMO junkies have been hopeless. They can’t survive without those POMO auctions, wherein the New York Fed would purchase Treasury securities – worth billions of dollars – on a daily basis. After the auctions, the Primary Dealers would take the sales proceeds to their proprietary trading desks, where the funds would be leveraged and used to purchase high-beta, Russell 2000 stocks. You saw the results: A booming stock market – despite a stalled economy.
Since I first wrote about the POMO junkies last summer, they have resurfaced on a few occasions – only to slink back into the shadows as the rumors of an imminent Quantitative Easing 3 were debunked.
The recent spate of awful economic reports and the resulting stock market nosedive have rekindled hopes that the Federal Reserve will crank-up its printing press once again, for the long-awaited QE 3. Economist John Hussman discussed this situation on Monday:
At this point, the S&P 500 has achieved a cumulative total return of less than 10% since April 2010. Meanwhile, of course, there remains a great deal of faith in the “Bernanke put,” because even though it’s fairly obvious that QE has done nothing durable for the economy or the financial markets over the last couple of years, a hit of QE might at least be good for a few months of “risk on” delirium. If the American public can’t get thoughtful economic leadership, at least Wall Street’s speculative junkies can hope for a little taste of Q from Sugar Daddy.
One of the problems with QE here, however, is that it would essentially represent fiscal policy for the benefit of speculators, at taxpayer expense. To see this, note that the 10-year Treasury yield is now down to less than 1.5%. One wonders how Bernanke would be able to argue, with a straight face, that this is not low enough. Nevertheless, a 10-year bond has a duration of 8 years – meaning that each 100 basis point fluctuation in interest rates is associated with a change of about 8% in the price of the bond. So if you buy the bond and hold it for a full year, an interest rate change of of 1.5/8 = .1875, or less than 20 basis points, is enough to wipe out the annual interest and leave you with a negative total return.
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“QE3 – subsidizing banks and bond speculators at taxpayer expense” – there’s a pithy slogan. That doesn’t mean the Fed will refrain from more of its recklessness (which will be nearly impossible to reverse when it becomes necessary to do so), but does anyone actually believe by now that QE would improve the economy, durably elevate risky assets beyond a few months, or materially relieve global debt strains?
Obviously, the POMO junkies have no such concerns. Beyond that, the Federal Reserve’s “third mandate” – keeping the stock market bubble inflated – will be the primary factor motivating the decision, regardless of whether those asset prices hold for more than a few months.
The POMO junkies are finally going to score. As they do, a tragic number of retail investors will be led to believe that the stock market has “recovered”, only to learn – a few months down the road – that the latest bubble has popped.