QE follow up

It’s been about a week, and the initial reactions are already wearing off and markets settling in.

The lasting effects are those of the income lost to the economy as the Fed earns the interest on the securities it buys instead of the economy. This reduces the federal deficit and is a ‘contractionary’ force. At the same time the Fed removes securities/duration/convexity/vol from the economy which tends to lower the term structure of risk free rates some and further reduce volatility as well.

Initially the long end sold off on the presumption that QE works to lower the output gap/restore growth and employment, which means the Fed would, down the road, be hiking rates in response to the improving economy.

However, as the reality that QE doesn’t work to support aggregate demand sinks in, long end yields can come down on the anticipation that future growth prospects are not good, increasing the odds that the Fed will be keeping rates low that much longer.

Likewise, it’s a mixed bag for stocks, though overall modestly supportive. QE doesn’t improve earnings prospects, and serves to keep growth down, but the lower interest rates help valuations, and high unemployment along with productivity increases work to keep unit labor costs down.

Europe has solved the solvency issue, but it’s all conditional on bringing deficits down, and so far it looks like they are all working to keep doing exactly that, and with no prospects for material private sector credit expansion or export growth,
GDP can continue to be negative.

Then there’s the US fiscal cliff. Everyone agrees deficit reduction slows things down, which is why they say we shouldn’t do it now. But they also therefore know it will slow down things whenever they do it in the future. So how hard should it be to come to recognize that slowing things down is actually the point of deficit reduction, and is appropriate only for that reason? Apparently it’s impossible. And the fiscal cliff is already taking its toll as anticipated contracts for next year along with purchases are being delayed.

So without some kind of fiscal paradigm shift I don’t see much good happening, and even the muddle through scenario is now at risk.