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John Mauldin's Outside the Box - Notes to the FOMC

February 19, 2014 | About:

Notes to the FOMC

John Mauldin

February 19, 2014

Janet Yellen, the new Fed chair, has her admirers and her detractors. One unabashed admirer is my good friend David Zervos, Jefferies' chief market strategist, who during the past several months has taken to hollering "Dammit Janet, I love you!" He was at it again yesterday:

Last week was certainly a week for the lovers. Q's broke to new cyclical highs, spoos moved to within just a few points of all time record highs, and Friday was St. Valentine's day! It was all about LOVE, LOVE and LOVE! But for those folks still hiding out in the HATER camp – those who probably spent Friday evening watching Blue Valentine, War of the Roses or Scenes from Marriage – last week must have felt more like a St Valentine's day massacre. These folks, and their econometrically deceitful overlay charts of 1927-1929 vs 2012-2014, were shredded by our new goddess of pleasure, beauty, love and of course easy money – Janet "Aphrodite" Yellen. She gave the haters a taste of the Hippolyos treatment!! And once again it was a triumph of love over hate!!

Janet delivered the perfect message for markets. Her focus on underemployment was unquestionable. Her commitment to eradicate joblessness via the power of monetary policy was also unwavering. And for anyone who thought she would be hawkish, or even middle of the road, this speech was a wake up call. The reality is that we are dealing with a die-hard Keynesian dove! It's really not that complicated.

That said some folks seem to think the rally was mostly a function of the data. Weak ISM, payrolls, retail sales and IP were apparently the drivers of a 5 percent rally off the lows. Pullease!! That is preposterous. The reality is the market was jittery (and downright freaky) into the Fed chairmanship transition. Risk was pared back by folks who began to incorrectly price in a surprise from Janet! And leverage induced illiquidity created an overshoot to the downside. Weak hands sold, and all the usual haters came out of their bunkers to once again warn of impending doom. But as per the norm, their day in the sun was short-lived. The dust has settled and the haters lost again! Love is in the air my friends, and we owe a great deal of thanks to our new goddess of easy money. Dammit Janet, I love you! Good luck trading.

Take note of this phrase: "the new Goddess of Easy Money." It is now in the lexicon. I wonder how many virgins will be sacrificed to this new deity. (Just kidding, Janet!)

Now, David is not above having a bit of fun in his always-entertaining commentaries, but for a somewhat more substantial take on the opening of the Yellen era, I suggest we turn to John Hussman (Trades, Portfolio). I wouldn't call John a Yellen detractor, exactly, but he is certainly inclined to take the Fed down a notch or three. Check out these zingers:

While we all would like to see greater job creation and economic growth, there is little demonstrated cause-and-effect relationship between the Fed's actions and the outcomes it seeks, other than provoking speculation in risk-assets by depriving investors of safe yield….

[T]he "dual mandate" of the Federal Reserve is much like charging the National Weather Service to balance the frequency of sunshine versus rainfall….

The FOMC should be slow to conclude that monetary policy is what ended the credit crisis…. The philosophy seems to be "If an unprecedented amount of ineffective intervention is not sufficient, one must always do more."

At present, U.S. equity valuations are about double their norms, based on historically reliable measures.

The primary beneficiary of QE has been equity prices, where valuations are strenuously elevated. QE essentially robs the elderly and risk-averse of income, and encourages a speculative reach for yield.

I think John would agree with me that the current economic theory driving our monetary policy is both inadequate and outdated. Is it any wonder that he concludes that monetary policy as it is practiced today is simply part of the problem? It is as if we are trying to fly a 747 using the knowledge and skills we learned while driving a car, and all the while looking in the rearview mirror. (Do those things have rearview mirrors?)

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