Fed Needs Help of its Worst Enemy to Unload QE Assets

Talk about a classic catch 22. The Federal Reserve has been buying Treasuries to depress interest rates and spark the economy. With a bloated balance sheet, the Fed needs the help of its arch enemy to unload assets.

1,273%. That’s how much the Federal Reserve’s balance sheet has mushroomed since 1990.

As of January 22, the Federal Reserve owns $2.228 trillion worth of U.S. Treasuries and $1.532 trillion worth of mortgage-backed securities.

Various other holdings bring the Fed’s balance sheet to $3.815 trillion.

The chart below provides a visual of the sharp balance sheet increase since 2008.

Buying those assets is the easy part, but how will the Fed unload them?

The Fed’s Enemy – Who?

The Federal Reserve engaged in massive quantitative easing (QE) to depress interest rates. Low interest rates forced investors into stocks and defrosted the frozen credit markets.

By extension, QE drove up stock indexes like the S&P 500 and Dow Jones (NYSEArca: DIA). Bernanke termed this the ‘wealth effect,’ which the Fed hoped would spill over into the economy.

The Fed’s biggest enemy is interest rates, rising interest rates to be exact. Particularly important is the 10-year T-note yield.

Rising interest rates make Treasuries and Treasury Bond ETFs like the iShares 20+ Year Treasury ETF (NYSEArca: TLT) more attractive than stocks.

Rising interest rates also result in higher loan and mortgage rates, which are speed bumps for the economy and real estate.

The chart below, published on December 12, plots the S&P 500 against the Fed’s balance sheet and 10-year Treasury Yields. Yields are inverted and the chart shows that the Fed has lost control over yields.

How The Fed’s Arch Enemy Can Help

The Federal Reserve is the biggest buyer and owner of Treasuries. The Fed can print money and buy securities all day long.

But, who will end up buying all the Treasuries the Federal Reserve has amassed? What happens when the Fed becomes the seller? The Fed can’t print buyers. There has to be a demand or the Fed (if possible) has to create a demand.

Irony at its Best

What makes Treasuries attractive? High yields, which ironically is exactly what the Fed is trying to avoid. High yields are bad for stocks and bad for the economy, but may be the Fed’s only hope to eventually unload assets.

There’s another caveat. High yields translate into lower prices. As yields rise, the Fed’s Treasury holdings – and Treasury ETFs like the iShares 7-10 Year Treasury ETF (NYSEArca: IEF) – will shrink.

Are there other alternatives? How about doing nothing and let the free market do its thing. Perhaps that’s what Bernanke and his inkjets should have done all along.

There is another problem largely unrelated to QE and the Federal Reserve. It’s ownership of U.S. assets (not just Treasuries).

We know that the Federal Reserve owns much of the Treasury float, but more and more U.S. assets are falling into the hands of foreigners. More and more U.S. citizens have to ‘pay rent’ to overseas landlords.

Here’s a detailed look at this economically dangerous development:

US Assets are Falling into the Hands of Foreign Owners at a Record Pace

Simon Maierhofer is the publisher of the Profit Radar Report. The Profit Radar Report presents complex market analysis (stocks, gold, silver, euro and bonds) in an easy format. Technical analysis, sentiment indicators, seasonal patterns and common sense are all wrapped up into two or more easy-to-read weekly updates. All Profit Radar Report recommendations resulted in a 59.51% net gain in 2013.

Follow Simon on Twitter @ iSPYETF or sign up for the FREE iSPYETF Newsletter to get actionable ETF trade ideas delivered for free.

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Most Important Number in Finance is Slipping Out of the Fed’s Control

The Federal Reserve is the most powerful financial institution in the world and yet it is like the emperor without clothes. Ironically, the very force the Federal Reserve is most afraid of may be the only thing to save the Treasury.

Mirror mirror on the wall, what is the most powerful financial institution of them all?

The S&P 500, Dow Jones and pretty much all other markets seem to dance to the tune of the QE rhythm … and yet the Federal Reserve resembles the vain king portrayed in Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” How so?

Rogue Interest Rates

The chart below shows the Federal Reserve’s monetary base sandwiched by the S&P 500 (SNP: ^GSCP) and the inverted 10-year Treasury Yield (Chicago Options: ^TNX).

The purpose of the chart is to show QE’s effect (or lack thereof) on stocks (represented by the S&P 500) and bonds (represented by the 10-year Treasury yield).

The 10-year Treasury yield has been inverted to express the correlation better.

I’ll leave the big picture interpretation of the chart up to the reader, but I have to address the elephant in the room.

Since the Federal Reserve stepped up its bond buying in January, the 10-year yield hasn’t responded as it ‘should’ and that’s very odd (the chart below shows the actual 10-year yield performance along with forecasts provided by the Profit Radar Report).

As of December 5, 2013, the Federal Reserve literally owns 12% of all U.S. Treasury securities and by some estimates 30% of 10-year Treasuries.

Icahn More Powerful Than Fed?

The Federal Reserve basically keeps jumping into the Treasury liquidity pool without even making a splash. If Carl Icahn can allegedly drive up Apple shares (with a 0.5% stake), why can’t the Fed manipulate interest rates at will?  This is just one of the many phenomena that makes investing interesting and keeps the financial media in business.

Conclusion

We do know why the Fed wants low interest rates. Rising yields translate into higher mortgage rates, and a drag on real estate prices. Eventually higher yields make Treasury Bonds (NYSEArca: IEF) a more attractive investment compared to the S&P 500 (NYSEArca: SPY) and stocks in general.

Ironically, what the Fed is trying to avoid (higher yields) may be the only force to save the U.S. Treasury. How can the Federal Reserve ever unload its ginormous Treasury position without the help of rising interest rates?

The emperor without clothes maintained his dignity (at least in his mind) as long as everyone pretended to admire his imaginary outfit. Perhaps a market wide realization that the Federal Reserve isn’t as powerful as it seems may ‘undress the scam.’

Regardless, the Fed’s exit from bonds would likely be at the expense of stocks, a market the Federal Reserve has been able to manipulate more effectively than bonds.

The Federal Reserve owns 12 – 30% of the U.S. Treasury market, but how much of the U.S. stock market has the Federal Reserve financed?

This stunning thought is explored here: Federal Reserve ‘Financed’ XX% of all U.S. Stock Purchases

Simon Maierhofer is the publisher of the Profit Radar Report. The Profit Radar Report presents complex market analysis (stocks, gold, silver, euro and bonds) in an easy format. Technical analysis, sentiment indicators, seasonal patterns and common sense are all wrapped up into two or more easy-to-read weekly updates. We are accountable for our work, because we track every recommendation (see track record below).

Follow Simon on Twitter @ iSPYETF or sign up for the FREE iSPYETF Newsletter to get actionable ETF trade ideas delivered for free.

Most Important Number in Finance is Slipping Out of the Fed’s Control

The Federal Reserve is the most powerful financial institution in the world and yet it is like the emperor without clothes. Ironically, the very force the Federal Reserve is most afraid of may be the only thing to save the Treasury.

Mirror mirror on the wall, what is the most powerful financial institution of them all?

The S&P 500, Dow Jones and pretty much all other markets seem to dance to the tune of the QE rhythm … and yet the Federal Reserve resembles the vain king portrayed in Christian Andersen’s “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” How so?

Rogue Interest Rates

The chart below shows the Federal Reserve’s monetary base sandwiched by the S&P 500 and the inverted 10-year Treasury Yield (Chicago Options: ^TNX).

The purpose of the chart is to show QE’s effect (or lack thereof) on stocks (represented by the S&P 500) and bonds (represented by the 10-year Treasury yield).

The 10-year Treasury yield has been inverted to express the correlation better.

I’ll leave the big picture interpretation of the chart up to the reader, but I have to address the elephant in the room.

Since the Federal Reserve stepped up its bond buying in January, the 10-year yield hasn’t responded as it ‘should’ and that’s very odd (the chart below shows the actual 10-year yield performance along with forecasts provided by the Profit Radar Report).

As of December 5, 2013, the Federal Reserve literally owns 12% of all U.S. Treasury securities and by some estimates 30% of 10-year Treasuries.

Icahn More Powerful Than Fed?

The Federal Reserve basically keeps jumping into the Treasury liquidity pool without even making a splash. If Carl Icahn can allegedly drive up Apple shares (with a 0.5% stake), why can’t the Fed manipulate interest rates at will?  This is just one of the many phenomena that makes investing interesting and keeps the financial media in business.

Conclusion

We do know why the Fed wants low interest rates. Rising yields translate into higher mortgage rates, and a drag on real estate prices. Eventually higher yields make Treasury Bonds (NYSEArca: IEF) a more attractive investment compared to the S&P 500 (NYSEArca: SPY) and stocks in general.

Ironically, what the Fed is trying to avoid (higher yields) may be the only force to save the U.S. Treasury. How can the Federal Reserve ever unload its ginormous Treasury position without the help of rising interest rates?

The emperor without clothes maintained his dignity (at least in his mind) as long as everyone pretended to admire his imaginary outfit. Perhaps a market wide realization that the Federal Reserve isn’t as powerful as it seems may ‘undress the scam.’

Regardless, the Fed’s exit from bonds would likely be at the expense of stocks, a market the Federal Reserve has been able to manipulate more effectively than bonds.

The Federal Reserve owns 12 – 30% of the U.S. Treasury market, but how much of the U.S. stock market has the Federal Reserve financed?

This stunning thought is explored here: Federal Reserve ‘Financed’ XX% of all U.S. Stock Purchases

Simon Maierhofer is the publisher of the Profit Radar ReportThe Profit Radar Report presents complex market analysis (stocks, gold, silver, euro and bonds) in an easy format. Technical analysis, sentiment indicators, seasonal patterns and common sense are all wrapped up into two or more easy-to-read weekly updates. We are accountable for our work, because we track every recommendation (see track record below).

Follow Simon on Twitter @ iSPYETF or sign up for the FREE iSPYETF Newsletter to get actionable ETF trade ideas delivered for free.

The Most Important Number in Finance is Falling … For Now

What’s the most important number in the financial world? You could ask Congress … but of course they couldn’t agree on it. The most important number in finance pulls almost every financial market in its wake. One more hint: The Federal Reserve (thinks it) is in control of it.

What is the most important number in finance?

GDP, unemployment rate, consumer confidence, or CPI?

The most important number in finance is the 10-year US Treasury Yield (Chicago Options: ^TNX).

When this number changes, almost every other number in finance changes.

The 10-year yield nearly doubled since May. The 7-10 Year Treasury Bond ETF (NYSEArca: IEF) dropped as much as 10%, a huge move for Treasury Bonds. The iShares Barclays 20+ Treasury Bond (NYSEArca: TLT) fell as much as 16%.

With rising yields came higher mortgage rates. But it doesn’t stop there. The yield rally also stifled stocks’ performance in two ways:

1) Low interest rates make bonds less attractive to investors and force them to move into stocks (NYSEArca: VTI). Bernanke calls this much-desired side effect the ‘wealth effect’ (although it robs retirees of their income).

2) Rising interest rates cause higher loan rates for businesses. This puts a squeeze on the profit margin and ultimately the stock price.

Yes, the 10-year yield is arguably the most important number in finance and therefore the chief target of Bernanke’s QE programs. The Federal Reserve buys its own Treasury bonds in an attempt to drive interest rates lower.

In the financial heist game it’s called an inside job.

Ironic QE Revenge

Ironically for much of 2013, the 10-year yield has been revolting against its puppet master (the Fed). The almost unprecedented 2013 yield rally is the opposite of the Fed’s objective.

The chart below plots the S&P 500 against the 10-year Treasury Yield.

1) The green box highlights the unwanted, unexpected and unprecedented yield rally.

2) The solid red lines marks yield resistance mentioned by the September 8 Profit Radar Report: “Yields have been rising dramatically, but may be at or near a top (at least a temporary one). As long as yields stay below 3%, odds are starting to favor falling yields and rising Treasury prices.”

Yields tumbled as much as 12% since.

3) The dashed red line shows what the S&P 500 (NYSEArca: SPY) has done since the meteoric yield rally: The S&P 500 is essentially flat and has been range bound since May. Apparently QE money is still finding its way into stocks, but rising yields prevented further gains for stocks.

4) A closer look at the correlation shows that rising yields are not always bad for stocks and shouldn’t be used as a short-term indicator.

Yield Outlook

The long-term trend for the 10-year yields seems to have changed from down to up. Over the short-term, yield may drop a bit further to digest the recent rally.

As the U.S. politicians are ‘impressively’ demonstrating (debt ceiling battle), U.S. Treasuries are not without risk. Even if/once an agreement is hammered out, the long-term futures for Treasuries doesn’t look bright.

As mentioned earlier, the Federal Reserve is deliberately inflating Treasuries. At one point the much-feared taper will begin. Via a brilliant preemptive move – probably in an effort to deflect responsibility – the Federal Reserve has already warned of a market crash (not caused by the taper of course). More details about the Fed’s market crash warning can be found here:

Surprising Fed Study – Is it Warning of a Market Crash?

Simon Maierhofer is the publisher of the Profit Radar Report.

Follow Simon on Twitter @ iSPYETF or sign up for the FREE Newsletter.

The Secret QE Bull Market Trade Pattern that Almost Never Fails

Experience is a cruel teacher, but nevertheless it teaches perceptive investors valuable lessons. Here’s the most important lesson this QE bull has taught me. It’s a pattern that allows us to identify when the bull is likely to strike next.

Have you ever attended a seminar where the teacher said: ‘if you only remember one thing, remember this.”

If you only know one thing about this QE bull market (in my humble opinion), let it be this: Persistence wears down resistance.

Before I explain what this means, let me insert this disclaimer:

I do not agree with the Fed’s easy money policy. It is not right, it is not fair, and it shouldn’t be legal, but my job as a market forecaster is to make money for my subscribers. If rising stocks translate into gains for my Profit Radar Report subscribers, so be it.

What I’m about to share with you has kept us on the right side of the trade (being long), even though I’ve gone on record saying that the odds of a significant market top around current prices are higher than 50%.

I also want to admit that my September 10 article on the equity put/call ratio showed a bearish extreme, which was supposed to lead to lower prices. Well, it didn’t, but QE bull trading patterns prevented us from going short at a time when (as we know now) stocks were getting ready to soar.

On the flip side (and unrelated to the QE bull trade pattern), I would be remiss not to mention that the August 7 Profit Radar Report saw higher prices coming:

“We continue to expect higher prices, since the important resistance level of 1,730 for the S&P 500 (SNP: ^GSPC) hasn’t been touched yet.” We actually went long the S&P 500 ETF (NYSEArca: SPY) when the S&P 500 moved above resistance on August 29 (buy trigger was at 1,642).

Ok, with that out of the way, let’s talk about the QE bull pattern.

Persistence Wears Down Resistance – The Pattern

Persistence wears down resistance basically means that sideways trading almost always leads to higher prices. Corrections originate from intraday reversals or gap down opens, but almost never develop straight out of range bound trading.

The green boxes in the S&P 500 (NYSEArca: VOO) chart below highlight times when range bound trading (usually 3 – 6 days) was followed by a spike higher (the red box marks an exception to the rule).

The spikes are often caused by gap up opens. The biggest chunk of the gains happen within the first minute of trade, which tends to bypass investors waiting on the sidelines. Today’s bypassed investor is tomorrow’s buyer.

Quite frequently we see the pattern highlighted via the gray oval. Consolidation – spike – consolidation – spike – consolidation – spike.

Only a coiled up snake can strike. Like a snake, the stock market (NYSEArca: VTI) coils up and strikes, and coils up and so on. The opposite is true of the VIX (Chicago Options: VXX), which has been taking a nap for most of the year, allowing investors to snooze in complacent bliss.

The night before this week’s Fed spike, the Profit Radar Report (September 17 issue) referred to this pattern once again and wrote: “A range bound market rarely precedes a top. Tuesday’s lackluster sideways session suggests at least another spike.”

When Will the Pattern Break?

Obviously QE is at the root of this pattern, and it’s commonly believed that the amount of dispensed QE (taper or no taper?) will eventually break the pattern.

This may well be, but there is another – so far unnoticed – force that can break the QE bull pattern.

This force is discussed here: Who or What Can Kill this QE Bull Market?

Hint: It’s up to investors themselves.

Simon Maierhofer is the publisher of the Profit Radar Report.

Follow Simon on Twitter @ iSPYETF

S&P 500 Pop Above 1,700 Explained

Guess what! The S&P 500 now trades above 1,700.

Should I dare ask, why did the S&P 500 (NYSEArca: SPY) pop above 1,700? As every Grandma and kindergarten kid will tell you, it’s because of what Bernanke said on Wednesday post FOMC address.

This may well be, there’s no denying that the Fed has fueled the stock market, but there’s another – possibly even better – explanation for the pop.

The S&P 500 chart below was initially published in the Wednesday edition of the Profit Radar Report and reveals something not commonly addressed by the mainstream media.

No, it’s not the fact that stocks didn’t pop the trading day after Bernanke’s speech. The chart shows that price action was contained by two red trend lines that acted as resistance.

Why and how do trend lines work?

This may be a corny illustration, but resistance levels contain stocks like a fence contains a lion. If the fence is broken the lion dashes out. Like a freed lion, the S&P 500 (NYSEArca: IVV) dashed higher as soon as ‘the fence’ (double trend line) was broken.

This hourly chart evidences that short-term trend lines work quite well. Just because resistance was broken doesn’t mean a rally will continue indefinitely.

Quite often the S&P (NYSEArca: VOO) will come back down to test support (prior resistance) before moving higher or it will run into a new resistance level.

What’s the Next Target or Resistance?

To discover higher resistance levels, we need to zoom out and look at a daily or weekly chart.

The Profit Radar Report, a premier resource for S&P 500 technical analysis, has already identified the next strong resistance and target level for this rally.

It’s too early to tell for sure, but the upcoming resistance should be important as stocks run the risk of declining significantly once resistance is reached.

You may check out the Profit Radar Report or take a look at this free do-it-yourself paper on S&P 500 technical analysis.

What’s Next? Bull or Bear Market? Try Gorilla Market

Right or wrong? The QE bull market will last as long as the Federal Reserve keeps QE going. A majority of investors say ‘Yes,’ but a curiously sophisticated experiment and powerful data suggest a surprise outcome.

In 2004 Daniel Simons of the University of Illinois and Christopher Chabris of Harvard University conducted a fascinating experiment.

If you want to be part of the experience take a minute (it literally only takes a minute) and watch this video before you continue reading.

To get the full effect, watch the video first and don’t read ahead.

If you don’t want to watch the video, here’s a quick summary:

Truth in Simplicity

The experiment is quite simple. There are two groups of three people each. One group is wearing black shirts, the other group white shirts.

The three people wearing black shirts are passing one ball to fellow black shirts; the ones wearing white shirts are doing the same. So there are six people, passing two balls.

The assignment is to watch how many times the players wearing white, pass the basketball.

It’s a simple assignment that requires some concentration and a clear mind.

The answer: The white shirts pass the ball 15 times.

But wait, there’s more. Many viewers get the number of passes right, but completely overlook a woman dressed in a gorilla suit. The gorilla walks slowly across the scene, stops to face the camera, and thumps her chest.

Half of the people watching the video did not see the gorilla. After watching the video for a second time, some of them refused to accept that they were looking at the same tape and thought it was a different version of the video.

“That’s nice, but what’s your point Simon?” Good question.

The Invisible 800-Pound Gorilla

The experiment was supposed to illustrate the phenomenon of unintentional blindness, also known as perceptual blindness. This condition prevents people from perceiving things that are in plain sight (such as the bear markets of 2000 and 2008).

Much of the media has zeroed in on one singular cause for higher or lower prices. Sample headlines below:

Reuters: Wall Street climbs as GDP data eases fear of Fed pullback
Reuters: Brightening jobs picture may draw Fed closer to tapering
Reuters: Wall Street slips amid Fed caution

The media is busy ‘counting passes,’ or watching Bernanke’s every word and interpret even the slightest variation of terminology.

The Fed’s action is the only thing that matters, but amidst ‘counting passes,’ many overlook the gorilla.

Gorilla Sightings

It’s believed that a rising QE liquidity tide lifts all boats. This was impressively demonstrated in 2010 and 2011 when various asset classes and commodities reached all-time highs. It only conditionally applies to 2012 and 2013 though.

In 2011 gold and silver rallied to nominal all-time highs. Why?

  1. The Fed pumped money into the system (aka banks) and all that excess liquidity had to be invested somewhere, anywhere, including precious metals.
  2. Fear of inflation. Gold is known is the only real currency and inflation hedge. Silver rode gold’s coattail and became known as the poor-man’s gold. From 2008 – 2011 gold prices nearly tripled and silver went from $8.50 to $50/ounce.

Since its 2011 high, the SPDR Gold Shares ETF (NYSEArca: GLD) has fallen as much as 38.29% and the iShares Silver Trust (NYSEArca: SLV) was down as much as 63.41%.

This doesn’t make (conventional) sense or does it. QE or the fear of inflation didn’t stop in 2011. In fact, QE (and the associated risk of inflation) is stronger than ever. Based on the above rationale, the gold and silvers meltdown is inconceivable and unexplainable.

The QE ‘Crown Jewel’

Initially QE was limited to government bonds or Treasury bonds. In other words, the Federal Reserve would buy Treasuries of various durations from banks and primary dealers with freshly printed money.

The effect was intentionally twofold:

  1. The Fed would pay top dollars to keep Treasury prices artificially inflated and interest rates low.
  2. The banks would have extra money to ‘play’ with and drive up asset prices, a process Mr. Bernanke dubbed the ‘wealth effect.’

With that thought in mind, take a look at the iShares 20+ year Treasury ETF (NYSEArca: TLT) chart above.

From the May peak to June trough TLT tumbled 14.56%, more than twice as much as the S&P 500 (7.52%).

Lessons

The lessons are simple:

  1. QE doesn’t always work and can misfire badly.
  2. We don’t see every gorilla (or looming bear).

All this doesn’t mean that the market will crash tomorrow. In fact, the stock market doesn’t exhibit the tell tale signs of a major top right now and higher highs seem likely.

Unintentional blindness is real and often magnified by the herding effect. The investing crowd (or herd) is convinced that stocks will go up as long as the Fed feeds Wall Street.

The above charts suggests that we shouldn’t follow this assumption blindly.