President Trump made a safe pick for the next Fed Chair in Jerome Powell. This isn't the typical Trumpian move as he didn't make a non-traditional pick to replace Janet Yellen. We recently wrote about the possibility of John Taylor and viewed it as unlikely because Taylor would likely want to raise rates faster than the current Fed.
President Trump is said to be considering tapping Stanford economist John Taylor as the next Fed Chairman. If Taylor gets the nod, it is possible that the Fed adopts the Taylor rule to set the Fed funds rates. The so-called Taylor rule is a formula that he proposed in 1993 for setting the federal funds rate -- the overnight bank lending rate used by the Fed to fight inflation or stimulate the economy. It challenges the Fed’s traditional reliance on the Federal Open Market Committee’s ad hoc judgment.
Last Friday on CNBC, former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan said that it's fair to characterize the current bond bubble as an "irrational exuberance" type of forecast. He did hedge the statement by saying that he has "no time frame on the forecast." Also note that he started making this bond bubble call in 2015.
The Wall Street Journal is reporting that President Trump is considering renominating Janet Yellen as Fed Chair but also views his economic adviser Gary Cohn as a top candidate. The president has changed his tune since the election season when he criticized Yellen repeatedly. Now he says that he thinks she is doing a good job and has "a lot of respect for her." Cohn would represent a dramatic shift away from an academic led Fed to a savvy business leader in Cohn who had a 26 year career at Goldman Sachs.
I usually reserve Friday blog posts for lighter topics but with the FOMC meeting this week, I think it is important to touch on the Fed's plan to shrink its $4.5 trillion balance sheet. While the announcement was widely expected, it spelled out in greater detail plans to slowly unwind the Fed's sizable bond holdings. We believe that this step is very positive alongside interest rate hikes. The economy is doing well enough that the Fed can step back from its emergency measures, thus saving ammo for the next recession. We do not believe that this will cause a spike in long term rates but will monitor the situation closely.
Since the Great Recession, market participants have had to hang on to every word coming out of the Fed and its governors. Central bankers became the driving force behind the bull market. It is no surprise that we have written far too many blog posts on Central Banks and their influence. Thankfully since May 2016, we haven't written anything on the Fed because they were essentially on hold. Furthermore, the economy has been gaining momentum and fundamentals are now the driving force behind the stock market hitting new highs.
In the financial markets, we have always had two important components: investors and regulators. Today, we are seeing governments as significant market participants that impact global markets. Sovereign wealth funds and public pension funds around the world are now among the largest owners of publicly traded stocks and bonds. China and Japan alone represent $5 trillion in public funds out of an estimated total $30 trillion of investments owned by 160 countries. No doubt these are investors of great size that can crowd out individual and institutional investors.
Last August, Runnymede Capital warned our readers that a financial hurricane was coming. Over the past six months, the stock markets around the world tumbled and the US has followed suit in 2016. Our clients, who gave us permission to raise cash reserves, were fortunate and their assets were protected.
Bubbles are the only things that matter. The rest of it is boring. You show up for work, markets are at normal levels, and there's not much you can do. It's all trivial. But in a great bubble you can get your clients' arses out of the way, and the money you can save can be quite legendary." - Jeremy Grantham
The financial services industry generally frowns upon market prognosticators. "Stay the course," they say. This is especially true in recent years since passive investments have outperformed active ones. Admittedly, peering into one's financial crystal ball and voicing an opinion can be a risky endeavor. Besides the obvious risk of being wrong, another risk is being labeled a perma-bull or perma-bear. In article after article that I read, the media loves to turn to its favorite go-to bulls and go-to bears for an appropriate quote. Unfortunately, few individuals are permitted to change their minds and even fewer do it well.
At Runnymede, we do a lot of research, and our view is dynamic, not fixed. Ultimately, our market outlook is reflected in the positioning of our clients' portfolios.
Fed’s Williams foresees up to five rate hikes this year. Is he clueless?
Many of the economic departments of the regional Federal Reserve banks conduct outstanding research on the economy. At Runnymede, I rely on them heavily for my prognostication on the economy as well as the stock market. The pity is the bosses at the Fed must not read their own research. Is it possible that the Chicago Fed's National Activity Index (CFNAI) is not part of the "data" that the Central bank is so "dependent" upon? CFNAI has missed expectations 9 of last 11 months and has been below 0 (contraction) for 8 months last year. In November the index missed expectations once again, tumbling to its lowest reading since May.
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