The Institutional Risk Analyst

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Don't Fight the Fed -- Yet

Sleepy Hollow | In this issue of The Institutional Risk Analyst, we take stock of the state of things now several weeks since the political transition in Washington. Despite some dire predictions, the world has not ended and, indeed, the Federal Reserve Board is continuing to buy over a hundred billion in securities – that is, duration – out of the market every month.

The fact of quantitative easing (QE) forever has not only inflated stocks such as Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) but has caused its colorful CEO, Elon Musk, to “invest” $1.5 billion of his shareholders’ money, the treasury funds of the company, in bitcoin. Not only has the fact of QE forever lifted stocks, but it has also changed the behavior of investors. Passive and crypto are in, fundamentals and short-selling are out, when the central bank is overtly depriving private investors of returns to the financial benefit of the US Treasury.

There was a fascinating conversation on CNBC yesterday with Carson Block of Muddy Waters Research, a shop that offers diligence based investing. The guest made the case that the fact of passive investing has caused a decrease is short selling, a logical conclusion in our book. But more than this, by targeting the Fed funds rate as a policy tool, the FOMC has forced investors to give up on short-selling strategies in all but the most extreme cases like GameStop (NYSE:GME).

CNBC anchor Becky Quick asked Block whether the rise of passive investing was not the result of the democratization of investing, a lovely sentiment. But no, there is nothing democratic about the members of the FOMC manipulating asset prices to support the political goal of full employment.

Thou shall be long forever, is the message from the FOMC, meaning that we shall take long-term value from investors to boost short-term employment for those who do not invest. This was the Faustian bargain struck 50 years ago in Washington via the Humphrey Hawkins law, full employment instead of guaranteed employment.

The imperative of full employment has led to the economic endpoint of zero or negative interest rates. Those investment managers and lenders who ignore this imperative to full employment do so at their peril. Of course, nothing lasts forever, especially when the equity market’s emotional center is still governed by the bond market.

No less a person than Mohamed El-Erian warns that the bubble shall continue unless and until the FOMC “loses control over long-term bond yields.” But has the Fed ever really been in control of long-term yields? Or is that merely a convenient illusion? Our view, informed by long chats with Ralph, is that the offshore bid is the key factor in the analysis. Equity managers don’t generally understand the world of fixed income or currencies, but they do understand that rising Treasury bond yields are bad for client returns and commissions.

The bond market seemed content to tolerate massive US deficits when a Republican was in the White House and that p