In the financial markets, money talks. I have observed and reported for many years that talking about a change in monetary policy, announcing that change, and actually executing it, are entirely different matters. The market tends not to anticipate change, it responds to actual changes in liquidity.
While the Fed and the mouthpieces of the mob have talked about tightening policy for months, the Fed only announced that it will finally tighten policy this month. The policy has yet to begin. That changes next week.
The new policy implementation begins now. The Fed actually will reduce its QE purchases for the first time since September 2019. That’s when the Fed undertook its emergency “Not QE” policy in response to the money markets freezing up. That came about from a Fed policy of non-intervention after Powell ended Yellen’s balance sheet normalization in December 2018. From December 2018 until September 2019, the Fed stood by while an onslaught of Treasury supply crushed the money markets.
The new policy that begins now is a tightening because it will reduce QE purchases. Anything that isn’t the status quo purchase rate of a total of $200 billion or so a month including MBS replacements, is effectively a tightening. The Fed will be buying less paper each month.
And so, the actual effects of the new policy begin now. The Fed will reduce its Treasury purchases by $10 billion for the mid November- mid December period. It will cut MBS purchases by $5 billion. It will continue to roll over maturing Treasury holdings and prepaid MBS. The net effect will be a reduction of $15 billion in the first month, and then $15 billion the following month.
They said they’d be flexible. In other words, if the markets tank, they’ll be back with more QE. The idea that they’ll continue cutting purchases for the 7 months it would take to get to zero, is a pipe dream. But it’s possible that they could cut for at least xxx-xxx months (subscriber version) before running into problems big enough to stop them.
I wrote months ago that the Fed could only reduce QE if the Treasury cuts issuance. That’s on the schedule this month, particularly as the new debt ceiling again restricts issuance.
But reduced issuance isn’t no issuance. After the dust settles and the debt ceiling is finally lifted or suspended for the long haul, the US Treasury will still be issuing an average of $150 billion per month in net new debt. If the Fed cuts QE for two months to new purchases of $90 billion per month after two months, and MBS replacement purchases average another $50 billion or so, the Fed will still be taking down directly or financing indirectly 93% of new issuance. No problem there. The market could sail right along with that.
But higher bond yields mean higher mortgage rates. Higher mortgage rates mean fewer refinances and fewer MBS prepayments. We don’t know exactly how much. But it will be an exacerbating factor. At the peak of the refi boom, Fed MBS purchases totaled $120-130 billion per month. Now they’re down to $100-110 billion per month, and they will drop more as mortgage rates rise.
If the stock market remains relatively stable going into January, the Fed will continue to cut its total outright purchases of Treasuries and MBS. They’ll go to $75 billion in January, and $60 billion in February. At that point, let’s say MBS replacements drop to around $40 billion a month. Then total Fed purchases would be around $115 billion and Treasury issuance would still be $150 billion. Then we’re talking about 77% of new issuance.
The benchmark for the Fed for the past dozen years has been to directly absorb and indirectly fund a total of xx% (subscriber version) of new issuance. The only time they went lower for any length of time was during the Yellen balance sheet bloodletting from October 2017 to December 2018. That did not go well. Once the 10 year breached 3%, the panic was on. Powell took over, panicked, reversed course, and began QE to infinity and beyond.
Now we’re going to find out again how far they can push the “tapering” fantasy. They told the market that they’re going to be “flexible.” Which means that they’ll reverse course at the first sign of trouble.
The issue is where that will be. First benchmark to watch on the 10 year is txxxx xxxx xxxx xxxx (subscriber version). If that’s cleared, and I have little doubt that it will be, the pressure will be on.
The Fed’s media mouthpieces will start floating the trial balloons around then. But remember! Guidance schmidance. Money talks, and BS, even Fed BS, walks. Once the pressure on the markets begins to manifest itself, the market won’t reverse course just because of a few words from the Fed. The market will only reverse when the money starts to flow again.
As Johnnie Cochrane famously said, “The Fed must pump, or the market will dump.”
With that in mind, we look at the macro liquidity chart (subscriber version) to this point and see that nothing has changed. Stock prices continue to track with rising liquidity. But that rise is about to slow, and month after month for the next xxx-xxx months (subscriber version) months at least, the Fed will tighten the screws. My guess is that around xxxxxxxx (subscriber version), we should start to see negative impacts in the financial markets. Treasuries will come under pressure first. Stocks will follow.
Be ready for things to change. The Fed is tightening. Rule Number One now points in the other direction for the first time since the Yellen bloodletting of 2017-18.
All spelled out and illustrated in the subscriber version.
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