John Whitefoot: Are investors getting too predictable? When it comes to anything the Federal Reserve says, utters, or even hints at, it certainly seems so. And for astute investors, that’s not such a bad thing.
During the first five months of the year, the S&P 500 climbed a solid 17%; in fact, the S&P hit an all-time intra-day high of 1,687.18 on May 22. Sensing the markets were responding favorably to its divine intervention, the Federal Reserve hinted that same day it might scale back its quantitative easing policy.
Fear that the American economy would have to stand on its own sent the markets reeling and made quick work of the bull market. Over the next four weeks, the S&P 500 lost 6.5% of its value and erased the gains of the previous three months.
Realizing market returns weren’t quite in sync with the American economy, the Federal Reserve qualified its previous statements, saying it might not, in fact, taper off its quantitative easing—and even if it did, that wouldn’t necessarily lead to higher interest rates. Investors cheered, and in July, the S&P 500 rebounded, climbing 6.2%.
On August 2, market exuberance saw the S&P 500 once again hit a new intra-day high (1,709.67). But it was to be short lived: stocks started a multi-day slide on Tuesday, August 6, after a pair of Federal Reserve officials hinted the central bank’s bond-buying program might end sooner than expected.
On Monday, Dennis Lockhart, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, said that a move to ease monetary stimulus could come in September, or at any time before the end of the year. (Source: “Fed’s Lockhart Says Reduction in Bond Buys Could Come in September,” The Wall Street Journal, August 6, 2013.)
On Tuesday morning, Charles Evans, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, said that depending on economic data, he wouldn’t rule out the central bank easing its asset purchases as early as September. (Source: Gibson, K., “U.S. stocks fall further from recent records,” MarketWatch, August 7, 2013.)