Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Fears Of The End Of Quant Easing

Markets everywhere have been shaken over the last two weeks. First was the correction in the Japanese equity markets. It has lost substantial ground over just the last couple of weeks. Next came the Bernanke's testimony which led all to conclude that QE would be ending soon. 

If an article in Monday's Wall Street Journal is anything to go by, the U.S. Federal Reserve is getting ready to unwind its massive monetary stimulus program. So, is that prospect as alarming for financial markets as feared?

Fed officials have mapped out a strategy to wind down its $85 billion-a-month bond-buying program in careful steps, although the timing of when that will start is still being debated, noted Fed watcher Jon Hilsenrath wrote in the WSJ. 

Any unwinding of the Fed's quantitative easing (QE) program, which has fueled a rally in equity markets and other risk assets, is generally viewed as negative and any indication of this happening has been highly anticipated in the U.S. since late last week. 

"Having spent two New York sessions pricing in a sharp change in Fed stance, it is not obvious that the article was worth the wait," analysts at Westpac said in a note. "The timing of the unwinding of QE remains data-dependent, not a serious prospect until perhaps late U.S. summer at the earliest."

Analysts say that in essence, the Fed appears to be managing market expectations that its quantitative easing program will not last forever. The Fed has said that it would maintain its key interest rate between zero and 0.25 percent until the unemployment rate fell to 6.5 percent. It has also committed to monthly purchases of bonds until labor market conditions improve substantially. 

And it is the recent signs of improvement in the jobs market that has renewed talk about a possible end to the quantitative easing. The latest non-farm payrolls report showed the U.S. economy created 165,000 new jobs last month, much more than expected, helping push the unemployment rate down to 7.5 percent. Data last week meanwhile showed jobless claims at their lowest level in almost 5-1/2 years. 

It looks like the markets are just grabbing at excuses to do a bit of sell down after a spectacular run in most equity markets since the beginning of the years. The timing is still a bit uncertain, but seriously folks, the end game only looks to peter out by December this year. It is very good that markets are readying itself for the end of QE.

The Fed officials are not going to raise interest rates until unemployment comes down to 6.5 percent, and could only come earliest by 1st quarter of next year. What is likely to happen is when unemployment dips below 7%, we may see a scaling back from the $85 billion buyback figure to maybe halve that. 

The knee jerkers would be better off looking at the positives:
That [an easing of QE] would be good for U.S. stocks because it would mean the U.S. economy is doing a lot better.
- That at least markets are already trying to price in the end of QE, instead of a surprising one off massive sell down.

The last part is very important as we can easily reference to the 1994 massive sell down, just because Alan Greenspan never gave any indication as to the imminent rise of interest rates in the US. That experience probably forms the backdrop for Bernanke's communication strategy. He is managing expectations very well. By putting it out there with the 6.5% unemployment target, it allows all to see the looming horizon.

I still think halving the buyback when unemployment dips below 7% would be an excellent strategy to manage expectations further. Everyone knows QE cannot be there forever.

I like the equity markets now more than in the beginning of the year. Japan has corrected substantially even though Abenomics will still be in the works. This will drive Japan to retests its high this year soon enough. I believe the sell down was a good profit taking exercise and actually allowing a lot of stale bulls (i.e. those holding onto Japanese shares for over 20 years) to exit - all that will come back to the market place for sure.

The local Malaysian equity market has held up better than the rest, and confidence breeds confidence. Having said that, Malaysia is only up 4.6% so far this, thanks to the uncertainty over the elections period. Other Asian markets have risen a lot more, and hence had more room for downside: Indonesia 15.2%, the Philippines 16.4% and Thailand 10.6%.