Eight Notes on a Distinctive Day

  1. My broad market portfolio trailed the market a little today. I’ve been a little out of favor over the past three months; I’m not worried, because this happens every now and then. That said, we are coming up on another portfolio rebalancing, where I will swap out 2-3 stocks, and swap in 2-3 others. Watch for that in the next few weeks.
  2. Every group in the S&P 1500 was up today. I can’t remember when I have seen breadth like that before. Financials and Energy led the pace. Names like Deerfield Triarc flew on the Fed cut. They will benefit from cheaper repo rates, and the excess liquidity injected the system should eventually ease repo collateral terms.
  3. If the US dollar LIBOR fix at 6AM (Eastern) tomorrow follows the move in the US futures markets today, then we should see LIBOR drop by 27 basis points or so. Given the smaller move down in T-bill yields, 14 basis points, that would leave the TED spread at 132 basis points, which is still quite high, and higher than the 10-year swap spread. (LIBOR would still be higher than the 10 year swap yield.) This indicates that there is still a lack of confidence among banks to lend to each other on an unsecured basis. Things are better than they were two weeks ago, but still not good.
  4. The short term crunch from the rollover of CP, especially ABCP is largely over. The good programs have refinanced, the bad programs have found new ways to finance their assets, or have sold them, or used backup guarantors, etc.
  5. Watch the slope of the yield curve. It is my contention that the slope of the yield curve changes relatively consistently through loosening and tightening cycles. In the last tightening cycle, the curve flattened dramatically through the cycle, making the word “conundrum” popular. This is only one day, but the yield curve slope, measured by the difference in yields between 10-year and 2-year Treasuries, widened 10 basis points today. (The curve pivoted around the 7-year today.) If I were managing bonds at present, I would be giving up yield at present by selling my speculative long bond positions that served me well over the past few months in my model portfolio. I would be upping my yen and Swiss Franc positions.
  6. We learned some new things about the FOMC today: a) They don’t talk their book publicly, so don’t take their public comments too seriously. b) They are willing to risk more inflation for the sake of the non-bank financial system (which is under threat), or economic growth (which may not be under threat). c) They are flagging the Fed funds rate changes any more by letting rates drift nearer the new target in the days before the meeting. d) Beyond that, we really can’t say yet whether this is a “one and done” or not yet. We just don’t have enough data. e) The FOMC really isn’t interested in transparency.
  7. It would be historically unusual for this to be a “one and done.” Fed loosenings are like potato chips. It’s hard to stop at one. Just as there is a delay in the body saying, “that’s enough,” with the potato chips, the in the economy in reacting to monetary policy is slow as well, often leading policy to overshoot, as the FOMC reacts to political complaints to do more because things aren’t immediately getting better. It’s hard to sit in front of the short-term oriented Congress, or listen to the manic media, and say, “But the FOMC has done enough for the economy. It doesn’t look good now, but in 18 months, our policy will take effect and things will be better. Just trust us and wait.” That will not fly rhetorically; it will take a strong-headed man to not overshoot policy. On that Bernanke is an unknown.
  8. To me, it’s a fair assumption then that this cut will not be the last. Investment implications: in fixed income stay in the short to intermediate range, and remain high quality. Buy some TIPS, and have some foreign bonds as well. I like the Yen, Canadian Dollar, and the Swiss Franc. In equities, think of high quality sectors that can use cheap short-term credit, and sectors that benefit from inflation and a weaker dollar. So, what do I like? High quality insurers, mortgage REITs that have survived, (maybe trust banks?), basic materials, energy, goods transportation, staples, some areas in healthcare and (yes) information technology (if I can find any more cheap names there that I like).

Full disclosure: long DFR