The FED Called and They Want Their Punchbowl Back


James Bernard, CFA, Managing Director, Fixed Income

Beginning in the later months of 2008 the U.S. Federal Reserve Bank (FED) began to expand their balance sheet, which at that time was in the range of $800 billion. Over the next 5+ years, 3 quantitative easing programs, where the FED bought U.S. Treasury Securities and government guaranteed Mortgage Backed Securities in the open markets, exploded the size of the FED balance sheet to over $4.2 trillion, close to where it is today.

It is widely thought that the FED would like to reduce the size of their balance sheet to somewhere in the $2 trillion range in coming years. The question is how quickly should the FED reduce the size of their balance sheet and what effect will that have on prices in the various securities markets. Conventional wisdom indicates that if the FED were to reduce their balance sheet over a similar 5+ year time frame interest rates could return to levels seen prior to 2008. In other words, closer to 3% short term rates and 4%-5% longer term treasury rates. While this would be in line with the interest rate outlook indicated recently by FED members, it would be, in our opinion, an overly aggressive balance sheet reduction program.

A more likely program would involve the reduction of the balance sheet over a longer time frame with the hope that any impact on interest rates and securities valuations would be minimal. As is typical we expect “well hedged” comments by the FED on this subject and commentary such as “our reduction of the size of the balance sheet will be data dependent and thus the timing of this program could change”.

So why does this balance sheet reduction announcement matter so much to the various securities markets? The principle “commodity cost” of the securities markets is the cost of money/level of interest rates. When investors can borrow at very low rates even modest returns can produce sizable returns, especially in leveraged portfolios. When interest rates are higher (or at more historically average levels) fixed income investments become a more viable alternative to higher risk equities, commodities, etc., and it becomes more difficult to earn returns well above these lower risk securities. This in turn may lead certain investors to demand better/lower valuations in order to risk their capital.

Jim Bernard, CFA, is the Managing Director, Fixed Income at Ancora Advisors LLC a SEC Registered Investment Advisor. He is also a Registered Representative and Registered Principal of Inverness Securities, LLC. (Member, FINRA/SIPC)

The mention of specific securities, types of securities and/or investment strategies in this newsletter should not be considered as an offer to sell or a solicitation to purchase any specific securities or to implement an investment strategy. Please consult with an Ancora Investment Professional on how the purchase or sale of specific securities can be implemented to meet your particular investment objectives, goals, and risk tolerances. Past performance of these types of investments is not indicative of future results and does not guarantee dividends/interest will be paid or paid at the same rate in the future. The data presented has been obtained from sources that are believed to be accurate and credible. Ancora Advisors makes no guarantee to the complete accuracy of this information. The indexes discussed are market performance indices and are not available for purchase. If you were to purchase the securities that make up these indices, your returns would be lower once fees and/or commissions are deducted. Past performance of these indices is not indicative of future results of the securities contained in these indices.

Ancora Advisors LLC is a registered investment adviser with the Securities and Exchange Commission of the United States. A more detailed description of the company, its management, and practices are contained in its “Firm Brochure” Form ADV, Part 2a. A copy of this form may be received by contacting the company at: 6060 Parkland Blvd, Suite 200, Cleveland, Ohio 44124, Phone: 216-825-4000, or by visiting our website

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