By Bud Conrad, Casey Research
The Federal Reserve recently announced important policy changes after its Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting. Here are the three most important takeaways, in its own words:
- The Committee decided today to keep the target range for the federal funds rate at 0 to 1/4 percent and currently anticipates that economic conditions – including low rates of resource utilization and a subdued outlook for inflation over the medium run – are likely to warrant exceptionally low levels for the federal funds rate at least through late 2014.
- The Committee judges that inflation at the rate of 2 percent, as measured by the annual change in the price index for personal consumption expenditures, is most consistent over the longer run with the Federal Reserve’s statutory mandate. In the most recent projections, FOMC participants’ estimates of the longer-run normal rate of unemployment had a central tendency of 5.2 percent to 6.0 percent.
- The Fed released FOMC participants’ target federal funds rate for the next few years.
The first item is the most important as it was not expected – and it had an immediate effect on markets. As seen in the chart below, gold spiked higher on the surprise news of extending the zero-rate policy through 2014.
The news prompted a similar jump in silver services:
Keeping rates low requires the Fed to print new money to buy Treasuries, so the dollar weakened against the euro, although the reaction wasn’t as big as in those in the gold and silver markets. This is partially due to the fact that the ECB is on its own campaign of printing money.
The promise to keep short-term rates low for a longer period also caused longer-term rates to fall slightly, as seen in the 10-year Treasury rate chart below, which fell from about 2.05% to 1.95 %, a relatively modest decline.
What Does This Say about the Fed’s Policy?
The most important action of the three was to extend the zero Fed funds rate to the end of 2014. This is a form of easing that could affect more rates than just short-term rates. Furthermore, there is a debate as to whether the action was the result of the Fed’s concern about the economy slipping back into recession. Or, this could also be a bullish sign for the economy and stock market, as the guaranteed low rates could increase investment to improve our economy. Zero rates drive investors to take on risks – such as buying stocks – to gain higher returns. As a result, this induces more investment toward riskier parts of the market, which might otherwise be underfunded. Though the Fed aims to stimulate the economy, we’re more likely to see a slip back into recession rather than see an effective Fed stimulus improving the economy.
The press conference suggested that quantitative easing (QE) remains on the table. As a result, new targeted asset purchases by the Fed are likely in our future. These additional purchases with newly printed money could become inflationary. That is why gold shot higher and the dollar weakened in the short term.
Both the Fed and the ECB have decidedly less-hawkish members and leadership than just last year. Both have now moved toward more money printing to keep rates low. The chart of central bank balance sheet as a ratio to GDP shows that the central banks of the world are clearly “printing”: