The declines in the prices of bonds and many risk assets since the Fed’s policy announcements last week have followed a sharp rise in the market’s expected path for US short rates in 2014 and 2015. This seems to have come as surprise to some Fed officials, who thought that their decision to taper the speed of balance sheet expansion in the next 12 months, subject to certain economic conditions, would be seen as entirely separate from their thinking on the path for short rates. Events in the past week have shown that this separation between the balance sheet and short rates has not yet been accepted by the markets.
The FOMC under Chairman Bernanke has worked very hard on its forward policy guidance, so there is probably some frustration that the markets have “misunderstood” the Fed’s intentions. Richard Fisher, the President of the Dallas Fed, said that “big money does organise itself somewhat like feral hogs”, suggesting that markets were deliberately trying to “break the Fed” by creating enough market turbulence to force the FOMC to continue its asset purchases.
This is dubious logic. Investors who dumped bonds after the FOMC meeting would make money if bond prices fell further. They therefore presumably want the Fed to tighten policy, which is the opposite of what Mr Fisher indicates. Nor is it right to suggest that big money “organises itself” at all; investors act in competition with each other, not in collusion.
Nevertheless, it is possible for market prices to become misaligned with the Fed’s intentions on monetary policy, and that may well have happened in the past few days. The key questions are why has it happened, and what can the Fed do about it? Read more