Don't fight the Fed

‘Don’t’ fight the Fed’

Four of the most important words in investing

For years I heard seasoned investors repeat this mantra but only recently - watching the S&P have its worst December since 1931, followed by its best January since 1987 - have I come to fully appreciate the weight of these words.

So, what does it mean? At its most basic level, it means that central banks and their stimulus policies can sometimes drive the market much more than individual investment ideas or the reality-based economic fundamentals of the time. So, it helps to understand central bank policy as well as the underlying investments themselves. It can often explain why markets are moving in a direction that seems to defy the deteriorating economic picture.

Notably, when the US Federal Reserve (the ‘Fed’) or the European Central Bank or Japan for that matter, shifts monetary policy, either officially or in the language they use, an investor should take the pivot seriously. Either get on board or get out of the way. Park your emotions, set aside the deteriorating global picture (at least in the near term). Liquidity moves markets. Don’t fight the fed, you will get burned.

Case study 1: First Quarter 2019

Following the worst December since 1931, January 2019 marked the best January since 1987. So, what happened? The US authorities tried to take the world markets off the ten year ‘Quantitative Easing’ life support that had been introduced during the great financial crisis. But the project failed and markets started to crash, prompting FED chairman Jay Powell to shift to a more dovish tone on Friday 4th January. Powell said the Fed would take a “patient” approach to monetary policy tightening. Though not an official Fed meeting, these words fuelled a rally that had already begun from extreme oversold levels.

The rally was sustained further on 30th January at the official Fed Meeting, where the Fed dropped hike language while at the same time indicating greater flexibility on reducing the size the Fed balance sheet. The central bank “will be patient as it determines what future adjustments to the target range for the federal funds rate may be appropriate”

By the end of February, the S&P 500 would have rallied near 20% from the 24th December lows. During that time, global economic data deteriorated. But the Fed pivot carried more weight, at least in the short term. The First quarter 2019 experience would suggest that perhaps all it takes is a shift in tone or rhetoric from the FED, even if not delivered at an official meeting.

Case Study 2: 2012 European Sovereign Crisis

Look back also to summer 2012, a sovereign debt crisis was unfolding which looked to be running out of control. On 26th July the head of the ECB Mario Draghi made a famous speech where he said the ECB would ‘do whatever it takes’, saying; “Within our mandate, the ECB is ready to do whatever it takes to preserve the euro. And believe me, it will be enough.” These words proved a huge catalyst, compressing yields on government debt and boosting markets. The German DAX index would go on to rise 40% within 18 months of this meeting. This was, in retrospect, a rare opportunity.

Case Study 3: Japan, summer 2016

At the start of August of 2016 Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s cabinet approved 13.5 trillion yen ($132.04 billion) in fiscal measures as part of efforts to revive the flagging economy. I recall at the time, a lot of macro funds and seasoned investors knew the implications of this stimulus and piled into Japan funds and stocks. Over the next 18 months the main Nikkei 225 index would rise more than 40%.

This is not advice to be applied to the current market. At some point the great stimulus experiment will run out, the can will have been kicked too far down the road, central banks will have run out of firepower, their words and initiatives will lose their power. Many think we are already there. This is just an observation on the historical significance of the four words: ‘Don’t fight the Fed

Fed Hikes :grin:


This is great stuff @Qualityinvestor. Do you know of any examples when ‘fighting the fed’ has worked and stocks did well despite central bank tightening?

Nice to see another Federer fan too. :tennis:


Thanks Toby. I’m glad it helps.

Yes, history suggests that rising rates aren’t necessarily a headwind. In fact, the opposite

According to Vanguard, periods of rising rates almost always coincide with market gains, even if the move higher in stocks is typically modest. The asset-managing giant looked at data covering the past 50 years, which included 11 periods where the Fed raised rates. The market rose in 10 of the 11 periods, as seen in the following chart.

“Hiking regimes often take place when the economy is performing strongly and earnings growth is robust, and therefore stocks tend to perform respectably during those periods,” wrote Joseph Davis, Vanguard’s chief economist.

I would argue that the recent attempts at interest rate tightening came amid the backdrop of record global debt, and slowing global growth, which caused global markets to have a a more severe downward reaction than precedent guided.

I should say that government economic policy is not my expertise. I spend most of my time hunting out and studying great companies to invest in. But I was at the coalface in 2012, 2016 and recently and feel that the impact from government stimulus policy is worth understanding. :grinning: