Opinion

James Saft

Fed does right thing in wrong way for wrong reasons

Sep 18, 2013 21:52 UTC

(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

By James Saft

(Reuters) – The Federal Reserve did the right thing in the wrong way and very likely for the wrong reasons.

The Fed said on Wednesday it would continue buying bonds at an $85 billion monthly pace for now, citing concerns about a sharp rise in borrowing costs in recent months and the upcoming budget battle in Washington. This came as a huge surprise to most people, well anyone who listened to and believed what Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has been saying for the past three months or so, when he did a masterful job of setting the market up for a tapering of bond purchases.

“The tightening of financial conditions observed in recent months, if sustained, could slow the pace of improvement in the economy and labor market,” the U.S. central bank said in a statement explaining its decision.

Seriously, the Fed, having led us to believe it would taper, just told us it wasn’t tapering because we believed them. What, exactly, are we now to think?

I’ve been among those who criticized the Fed for artificially suppressing volatility in financial markets, but I didn’t intend for them to increase it by acting unpredictably; I was hoping more that they’d let assets find their own values.

Market, economy in rare alignment on Summers: James Saft

Sep 17, 2013 04:46 UTC

(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

By James Saft

(Reuters) – With the withdrawal of Larry Summers from consideration to run the Fed we have that rare thing: an alignment between what the market wants and the economy needs.

Markets celebrated on Monday after Summers, facing strong opposition to his confirmation should he be appointed to succeed Ben Bernanke as Federal Reserve chairman, wrote to President Obama saying he no longer wished to be in the running. Equities jumped and bond yields fell because investors see Summers’ exit as opening the way for Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen, who in turn they expect to hew closely to the policies followed by Bernanke.

Yellen is seen as a gradualist who would only very slowly taper bond buying, a process that may well begin this week, and who is less likely to rapidly withdraw other support from the economy.

Lehman’s legacy of inequality: James Saft

Sep 12, 2013 21:05 UTC

Sept 12 (Reuters) – Of the many regrettable aspects of the
failure of Lehman Brothers, perhaps the worst is that it led to
policies which expanded and reinforced economic inequality in
the U.S., often through unfair means.

When Lehman went down five years ago it set in train forces
which could easily have led to the failure of many financial
institutions. Faced with the possibility of taking large swaths
of the banking system into effective government control, first
the Bush and later the Obama administrations chose instead to
shelter institutions and executives from the consequences of
their actions.

That involved creating a variety of policies which
subsidized large banks and helped to dig a moat around their
businesses. This went hand in hand with monetary policy which
both supported banks and kept artificially high the value of
financial assets and real estate.

Investing for peak population

Sep 11, 2013 20:50 UTC

(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.)

By James Saft

(Reuters) – Peak population is coming, sooner than you think, and bringing with it enormous investment challenges.

Birthrates are falling, and will continue to do so, especially in fast-urbanizing emerging markets, according to Sanjeev Sanyal, an economist and demographer who is also global strategist at Deutsche Bank.

“We feel that the world’s overall fertility rate will fall to replacement rate by 2025. Population will continue to rise for a couple of decades, in large part because of increasing lifespan, but this is a major global turning point, and one with profound investment implications,” Sanyal wrote in a note to clients released on Monday.

Fed finally making policy for humans, not Vulcans: James Saft

Sep 10, 2013 04:13 UTC

(James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own)

By James Saft

(Reuters) – Someone at the Federal Reserve finally figured out that we are not Vulcans but humans.

Rather than pointy-eared aliens constantly performing discounted cash flow calculations, we are actually, as investors, often chumps, prone to irrational enthusiasms leading to bubbles, San Francisco Fed President John Williams acknowledged in a speech on Monday. (here)

The implication is that many of us are about to feel that very human emotion of chagrin as we watch the value of our houses and stocks go down.

India, Rajan and the Great Man fallacy: James Saft

Sep 5, 2013 20:09 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – Enthusiasm for new Indian central bank head Raghuram Rajan is understandable, but blind faith in him is misplaced.

While Rajan, the former IMF chief economist who took over as Governor of the Reserve Bank of India on Wednesday, made promising first steps, he simply doesn’t have the tools or levers to do what is needed.

Almost more to the point, the euphoria around Rajan is evidence of the Great Man fallacy of central banking, an always foolish belief that complex events can be bent to the will of one magical civil servant.

The unwelcome return of risk-on, risk-off

Sep 4, 2013 20:01 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – After ebbing for most of the year, correlations are creeping back into financial markets.

Many investors, especially stock pickers, hoped they’d seen the last of “risk-on, risk-off”, a pattern in which commodities, stocks, currencies and bonds move very tightly in predictable ways and which has been the dominant trade in the post-financial-crisis landscape.

That certainly was the way the world looked even a month ago, with more assets going up or down on their own merits and prospects rather than in a lemming-like flight from risk towards safety or vice versa.

Most news bad for emerging markets: James Saft

Aug 29, 2013 20:54 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – Syria today, the taper tomorrow – emerging market policymakers are learning that once the market becomes concerned with a current account deficit, most news is bad news.

Having enjoyed easy funding and massive inflows for much of the post-financial crisis period, the prospect of structurally higher global interest rates has made the world suddenly a much less welcoming place for emerging markets.

Expectations that a U.S-led military strike against Syria would cause oil to spike in cost, driving up current account deficits for non-oil-producing countries, helped spur the latest weakness. And any bit of good U.S. economic news, bringing with it higher chances of a Federal Reserve cutback on bond purchases, have only made it worse.

Don’t ‘war game’ your portfolio

Aug 28, 2013 20:51 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – Investors fearing the impact of an attack on Syria ought to start worrying instead about things they can predict and control.

In other words – and with apologies to Nathan Rothschild, whose advocacy of buying during times of war is probably apocryphal anyway – don’t “buy when there is blood in the streets,” hold.

Global markets have been roiled in recent days by a rising conviction that the United States will lead military strikes against the Syrian government in reprisal for its alleged use of chemical weapons on its own people. Emerging market assets were hit hard again on Wednesday, while Brent crude oil hit a six-month high of $117 a barrel. Gold also rose, and U.S. stocks, which had fallen on the theme on Monday, recovered a bit of ground.

Taper talk meets data reality: James Saft

Aug 27, 2013 05:04 UTC

By James Saft

(Reuters) – Looked at in isolation, the economic data in the United States does not argue for the Federal Reserve to cut back on its bond purchases starting in September.

Yet markets and economists continue, in the main, to expect the so-called taper, a process where the Fed begins to reduce the $85 billion per month it buys in bonds, to be announced at its September meeting.

On the face of it, that expectation should have been dealt two massive blows by data about new home sales and the purchase of big-ticket durable goods released on Friday and Monday.

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