During Fed Chair Jay Powell's testimony this week, it was made clear that the Fed Chair is looking to walk back comments made in December 2018 that the balance sheet reduction was on 'autopilot'. This comes just months after Powell first made the ‘autopilot’ statement and equities responded with a torrid sell off, falling close to 20% before ultimately bottoming on Christmas Eve.
This turn around can lead investors to a couple of conclusions. First, the FED clearly takes into consideration ‘financial conditions’ or more likely, equity valuation / stability. The FED put, initially thought lost during chair Powell’s first few months, is alive and well. Second, the financial sector and the economy as a whole are less able to absorb a tightening of monetary policy than previously thought.
Throughout 2018, there was substantial discussion that the FED balance sheet runoff was going smoothly, that the economy was humming along, with some commenting that the global economy was expierencing ‘synchronized global growth’. The below chart shows how far the FED has moved, after growing the balance sheet by over $3 Trillion, just ~$400B has rolled off. Relative to the increases, this was nothing and yet markets roiled up, volatility spiked, credit spreads were widening, and liquidity all of a sudden was being talked about as a risk. Economic growth may have even slowed as result, as businesses and consumers, concerned at the equity volatility, delayed spending / business investment in Q4. Now, the FED appears to have backed themselves into a corner on the balance sheet. The party’s back on, so let’s get up and keep dancing.