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Update: Fed Intervention and the Market

  • Written by Syndicated Publisher 387 Comments387 Comments Comments
    February 10, 2012

    About 4 1/2 months have passed since the latest Federal Reserve intervention, Operation Twist, was officially announced on September 21. We’ve now seen several bouts of aggressive Fed attempts to manage the economy following the collapse of the two Bear Stearns hedge funds in mid-2007 about three month before the all-time high in the S&P 500.

    Initially the Fed Funds Rate (FFR) underwent a series of cuts, and with the bankruptcy of Bear Stearns, the Fed launched a veritable alphabet soup of tactical strategies intended to stave off economic disaster: PDCF, TALF, TARP, etc. But shortly after the bankruptcy filing, the Fed really swung into high gear. The FFR fell off a cliff and soon bounced in the lower half of the 0 to 0.25% ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policy). The thud to the FFR bottom coincided with the first of two rounds of quantitative easing in an effort to promote increased lending and liquidity.

    If a picture is worth a thousand words, this chart needs little additional explanation — except perhaps for those who are puzzled by the Jackson Hole callout. The reference is to Chairman Bernanke’s speech at the Fed’s 2010 annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Bernanke strongly hinted about the forthcoming Federal Reserve intervention that was subsequently initiated in November of 2010, namely, the second round of quantitative easing, aka QE2.



    The latest major strategy, Operation Twist, will run through June 2012. The Fed is selling $400 billion of shorter-term Treasury securities and using the proceeds to buy longer-term Treasury securities in an effort to lower interest rates.

    The yield on the 10-year note closed at 1.88 on the day of the “Twist” announcement and on the following day closes at the historic low of 1.72. The interim post-twist yield highs for the 10 and 30 were 2.42 and 3.45, respectively, on October 27.

    We still have almost five months of “Twist” left, so it’s too soon to know how the effective the strategy will be for lowering interest rates. According to the Freddie Mac survey, the 30-year mortgage rate has fluctuated between 4.22% and 3.87% since the first week in September, and the most recent average as of February 2nd was the historic low: 3.87%. Here is a snapshot of the 10 and 30 year Treasury yields and the 30-year fixed mortgage (excluding points).



    The 30-year mortgage is at the bottom of the range, and two Treasuries are somewhere between their interim highs and lows.

    The past three years have been an exciting time for many professional traders and their seasoned amateur counterparts. And it’s been a dream-come-true for institutional HFT (high frequency trading) with computerized algorithms. Of course, there have been perils, even for seasoned pros, as thebankruptcy of MF Global illustrates.

    On the other hand, savers — those benighted souls looking for income from CDs, Treasury yields, and FDIC insured money markets — have had a rude introduction to the new reality, one that will apparently be with us for a very long time.


    Images: Flickr (licence attribution) 

    About The Author

    My original dshort.com website was launched in February 2005 using a domain name based on my real name, Doug Short. I’m a formerly retired first wave boomer with a Ph.D. in English from Duke. Now my website has been acquired byAdvisor Perspectives, where I have been appointed the Vice President of Research.

    My first career was a faculty position at North Carolina State University, where I achieved the rank of Full Professor in 1983. During the early ’80s I got hooked on academic uses of microcomputers for research and instruction. In 1983, I co-directed the Sixth International Conference on Computers and the Humanities. An IBM executive who attended the conference made me a job offer I couldn’t refuse.

    Thus began my new career as a Higher Education Consultant for IBM — an ambassador for Information Technology to major universities around the country. After 12 years with Big Blue, I grew tired of the constant travel and left for a series of IT management positions in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. I concluded my IT career managing the group responsible for email and research databases at GlaxoSmithKline until my retirement in 2006.

    Contrary to what many visitors assume based on my last name, I’m not a bearish short seller. It’s true that some of my content has been a bit pessimistic in recent years. But I believe this is a result of economic realities and not a personal bias. For the record, my efforts to educate others about bear markets date from November 2007, as this Motley Fool article attests.


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