The Fed's policy of buying government bonds by the billions-of-barrels full (controversial in some quarters because it's essentially printing money and debasing the U.S. dollar) is coming to an end this fall. Here's a brief history review from the Washington Post:
For the past year and a half, the Fed has been buying tens of billions of dollars in government bonds and securities each month in an attempt to tamp down long-term interest rates and boost the recovery. It was the third and largest bond-buying program the central bank has launched since the 2008 financial crisis. But officials have been slowly scaling back the effort this year, and documents released Wednesday show that the Fed’s policy-setting committee is nearly ready to call it quits....The QE programs have kept short-term interest rates near zero since 2008, and the big question now is when might the Fed begin, at long last, to raise them. According to Sy Harding's reporting, it might be sooner than expected:
The bond-buying programs, also known as quantitative easing, have been credited with pushing mortgage rates to historic lows, breathing life into the moribund housing market and fueling a boom in refinancing.... The bond purchases have also helped send stock markets to record highs, with the Dow Jones industrial average crossing 17,000 last week. The index has hit a new high 14 times this year. But skeptics worry that the Fed could be setting the stage for another financial bubble...
The Fed now says it will use a range of economic data to decide when to begin raising rates, with its emphasis on inflation. It indicated the first rate hike will probably not be until late next year. However, with some signs that inflation is beginning to rise faster than the Fed expected, pressure is building for the Fed to consider raising interest rates sooner.This "when will they raise rates?" discussion brings to mind occasional posts that Mark has put up over the past two years that point to rising rates as a possible indicator that the bull market may be ending. Most recently in May, for instance:
Even some Fed officials are in that camp. Charles Plosser, president of the Philadelphia Fed, said this week that, “We should not keep rates at zero until we meet all our economic objectives.” He warned waiting too long could be disruptive, that rates would have to rise faster and higher if the Fed gets behind the curve. Kansas City Fed President Esther George said this week that some of the indicators the Fed looks at are pointing to a possible rate hike as early as this year (emphasis added).
That is not the consensus of Fed officials, but raises the possibility of more dialog in that direction.
I’ve written a number of times that I don’t think this bull market will end until that monetary policy begins to tighten. And while the winding down of the Quantitative Easing programs could be interpreted as the beginning stages of that tightening, even after that stimulus ends, we’ll still have interest rates at nearly zero. So I think we have a ways to go yet before this bull is finished.
But as we've frequently pointed out, bear markets always follow bull markets and your long-term plan must take this into account—by setting your stock exposure commensurate with your season of life and investing temperament.
As Mark concluded in his May post:
The next 18-24 months may or may not unfold the way I’ve described here. Our investment success isn’t reliant on making good predictions, and yours shouldn’t be either. That’s a horrible way to invest. But if you’re following SMI’s strategies and have an appropriate risk mix based on your season of life, you don’t need to worry about predictions. We think that offering an educated guess of what the future may hold can be helpful if it helps you stick with your plan during periods of market uncertainty and fear. But it’s no substitute for following the personal plan that we encourage all readers to create when they start investing according to SMI principles.