Fed: “Patient” Prick Proves More Pleasure than Pain
I will be the first one to admit I hate needles. In fact, I’ve been known to skip my annual flu shots out of cowardice simply to avoid the harmless prick of the syringe. The mere thought of a long needle jabbing into my arm, or other fleshy part of my body, has had the chilling effect of generating irrational decisions (i.e., I forgo flu shot benefits for no logical reason).
For months the talking heads and so-called pundits have speculated and fretted over the potential removal of the term “patient” from the periodically issued Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) statement. Since the end of 2014, the statement read that the Fed “can be patient in beginning to normalize” monetary policy.
For investors, the linguistic fear of the removal of “patient” is as groundless as my needle fears. In the financial markets, the consensus view is often wrong. The stronger the euphoric consensus, the higher the probability the consensus will soon be wrong. You can think of technology in the late 1990s, real estate in the mid-2000s; or gold trading at $1,800/oz in 2011. The reverse holds true for the pessimistic consensus. Value guru, extraordinaire, Bill Miller stated it well,
“Stocks do not get undervalued unless somebody is worried about something. The question is not whether there are problems. There are always problems. The question is whether those problems are already fully discounted or not.”
Which brings us back to the Fed’s removal of the word “patient”. Upon release of the statement, the Dow Jones Industrial index skyrocketed about 400 points in 30 minutes. Considering the overwhelming consensus was for the Fed to remove the word “patient”, and given the following favorable factors, should anyone really be surprised that the market is trading near record highs?
- Queen Dove Yellen as Fed Chairwoman
- Declining interest rates near generational low
- Stimulative, low oil prices that are declining
- Corporate profits at/near record highs
- Unemployment figures approaching cyclical lows
- Core inflation in check below 2% threshold
While the short-term relief rally may feel good for the bulls, there are still some flies in the ointment, including a strong U.S. dollar hurting trade, an inconsistent housing recovery, and a slowing Chinese economy, among other factors.
Outside the scandalous “patient” semantics was the heated debate over the Fed’s “Dot Plot,” which is just a 3rd grader’s version of showing the Fed members’ Federal Funds rate forecasts. While to a layman the chart below may look like an elementary school dot-to-dot worksheet, in reality it is a good synopsis of interest rate expectations. Part of the reason stocks reacted so positively to the Fed’s statement is because the “Dot Plot” median interest rate expectations of 0.625% came down 0.50% for 2015, and by more than 0.60% for 2016 to 1.875%. This just hammers home the idea that there are currently no dark clouds looming on the horizon that would indicate aggressive rate hikes are coming.
These sub-2% interest rate expectations over the next few years hardly qualify as a “hawkish” stance. As I’ve written before, the stock market handled a 2.5% hike in stride when the Fed Funds rate increased in 1994 (see also 1994 Bond Repeat or Stock Defeat?). What’s more, the Fed Funds rate cycle peaked at 5.0% in 2007 before the market crashed in the Great Recession of 2008-2009.
Although volatility is bound to increase as the Federal Reserve transitions out of a six-year 0% interest rate policy, don’t let the irrational fear of a modest Fed hike prick scare you away from potential investment benefits.