Time for another Fed Twist?
We’re well into our sixth month since the latest Federal Reserve intervention, Operation Twist, was officially announced on September 21. We’ve now seen several bouts of aggressive Fed attempts to manage the economy following the collapse of the two Bear Stearns hedge funds in mid-2007 about three month before the all-time high in the S&P 500.
Initially the Fed Funds Rate (FFR) underwent a series of cuts, and with the collapse of Bear Stearns, the Fed launched a veritable alphabet soup of tactical strategies intended to stave off economic disaster: PDCF, TALF, TARP, etc. But shortly after the Lehman bankruptcy filing, the Fed really swung into high gear. The FFR fell off a cliff and soon bounced in the lower half of the 0 to 0.25% ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policy). The thud to the FFR bottom coincided with the first of two rounds of quantitative easing in an effort to promote increased lending and liquidity.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, this chart needs little additional explanation — except perhaps for those who are puzzled by the Jackson Hole callout. The reference is to Chairman Bernanke’s speech at the Fed’s 2010 annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Bernanke strongly hinted about the forthcoming Federal Reserve intervention that was subsequently initiated in November of 2010, namely, the second round of quantitative easing, aka QE2.
The latest major strategy, Operation Twist, will run through June 2012. The Fed is selling $400 billion of shorter-term Treasury securities and using the proceeds to buy longer-term Treasury securities in an effort to lower interest rates.
The yield on the 10-year note closed at 1.88 on the day of the “Twist” announcement and on the following day closes at the historic low of 1.72. The interim post-twist yield highs for the 10 and 30 had been 2.42 and 3.45, respectively, on October 27. But on March 19 the 30-year hit a new interim closing high yield of 3.48.
We still about six weeks of “Twist” left, so it’s a bit too soon to make a definitive pronouncement the success of this strategy for lowering interest rates. Changes can be sudden. But at this point, the Fed seems to be getting their way. According to the Freddie Mac survey, the 30-year mortgage rate has fluctuated between 4.22% and 3.83% since the first week in September, and the most recent average as of was the all-time low of 3.83%. Here is a snapshot of selected Treasury yields and the 30-year fixed mortgage (excluding points).
The past three years have been an exciting time for many professional traders and their seasoned amateur counterparts. And it’s been a dream-come-true for institutional HFT (high frequency trading) with computerized algorithms. Of course, there have been perils, even for seasoned pros. Thebankruptcy of MF Global is a grim reminder. And now we have the travesty of JPMorgan’s trading strategy as a followup.
On the other hand, savers — those benighted souls looking for income from CDs, Treasury yields, and FDIC insured money markets — have had a rude introduction to the new reality, one that will apparently be with us for a very long time.