David Gaffen

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Fed Starts to Remove Candy; Market Demands More

September 24, 2009

The stock market’s penchant for emotional reactions that remind one of a roomful of two-year olds can never be underestimated. Major world central banks are pulling back on their efforts to provide liquidity to the financial system, and the U.S. equity market has flipped out, with stocks falling sharply after the news.Volatility has spiked as well, even though the banks’ move is largely administrative, with demand for certain borrowing programs already diminished. Chris Rupkey, chief financial economist at Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ notes that “demand for dollar liquidity at banks offshore is sharply reduced now that the crisis has blown through. The amount of dollar borrowing in offshore centers is down sharply.”

But equity markets aren’t so easily swayed by reason. The move in stocks follows a similar sell-off late Wednesday, after the Federal Reserve’s statement, which intimated that it would start to reduce the tools that it has employed in keeping things afloat. Joe Saluzzi of Themis Trading pegged the reaction as a predictable one from the notoriously self-interested stock market, saying that “now all the money printing crack addicts who are waiting for more of it are not getting their money printing and they are going to throw a hissy fit.”

Housing sales fall, despite lower rates.

Housing sales fall, despite lower rates.

And this is with only the most gradual of responses from the Fed. Lou Crandall of Wrightson ICAP points out that the Fed, with the tweak to their statement Wednesday and today’s action, is signaling its intention to shift away from life-support efforts, even though it is nowhere near raising interest rates.

The uneasiness becomes clearer when considering the day’s poor housing figures. Sales of existing homes fell 2.7 percent in August, and some speculate that the eventual removal of a first-time home-buyers credit by November (only homes that have closed qualify) will cause a reduction in demand, similar to the way the cash-for-clunkers program provided a temporary lift in auto sales.

No one data point can be taken as a full assessment of the economic environment, but major sectors of the economy are running with training wheels. What happens when they’re finally removed?

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  • About David

    "David Gaffen oversees the U.S. markets team, having joined Reuters in May 2009. He spent four years at the Wall Street Journal, where he was the original writer of the web site's MarketBeat blog. He is a frequent guest on Reuters TV, and has appeared on CNN International, Fox Business, NPR, and assorted other media and is the author of the book "Never Buy Another Stock Again.""
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