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The Federal Reserve and the Next Financial Crisis


Mortgaging future generations for immediate gratification.

Editor's Note: Todd posts his vibes in real time each day on our Buzz & Banter.

I may be going to hell in a bucket, babe
But at least I'm enjoying the ride.
-- Grateful Dead

We've seen a lot in our time together: the dot -com bust, the energy and metal bubbles, unintended policy consequences that created the housing bubble, the implosion that almost took down the global financial system (after we were assured it was "contained" by Mr. Bernanke and Ms. Yellen) and of course, the grand finale:

Throughout it all, we've operated with certain guiding principles: All you have is your name and your word, and honesty, trust, and respect are the foundational constructs of any successful endeavor. Further, we've attempted to navigate this historic stretch with an ethos that we can be suspect or critical in our analysis but we mustn't delve into the realm of acrimony or disrespect; there is already more than enough of that to go around.

Yesterday, following the latest Jedi mind trick by the Fed, I colored outside my self-imposed lines and wrote a column that was as close to "losing it" as I'll get. The genesis wasn't a massive hit to my P&L or frustration stemming from the opportunity cost; it was cumulative angst, much like September 2008 when I wanted to stand on a table in a crowded restaurant and scream, "PAY ATTENTION to what is happening!"

Conventional wisdom dictates that the financial crisis we witnessed in 2008 is a once-in-a-generation event, and that would likely be true in a capital market construct that was allowed to experience booms and busts. This Federal Reserve, however, has tried to retire the business cycle, repeatedly using policy and vernacular to brainwash investors into believing that recession is anathema.

To their credit, they have largely succeeded in the financial equivalent of "Mission Accomplished"; if the stock market is the world's largest thermometer and price is the ultimate arbiter of variant views, the all-time highs are all you need to know. Those who are lucid enough to ask "why?" rather than "what?" however, will remain one step ahead of the increasingly likelihood of history repeating.

We strive to see the entire probability spectrum and there is an outcome that supports higher prices still, should the Fed somehow "write off" the toxic assets it has accumulated or simply ignore them, as policymakers effectively did when they swept FASB 157 under the rug in 2008.

The risk to that assumption, however, is that the unintended consequences of this historically untested approach will remain muted or absent; remember, the result of the Y2K and dot-com "solutions" led to the housing bubble, and the result of those "solutions" continues to manifest in size and scope, ballooning sovereign balance sheets, punishing foreign holders of dollar-denominated assets, and pushing social mood toward the third -- and final -- phase of the prevailing direction.

There is a tactical approach to trading this market -- trailing stops with S&P (INDEXSP:.INX) 1709 as a backstop -- and viable pair trades for those who are patient (we touched on one last Friday in our gold vs. S&P discussion).

That's all well and good for those with a "take care of the minutes and the hours will take care of themselves" mindset, but we would be wise to keep our eyes open while maintaining independent thought. If we learned anything yesterday, it's that the Federal Reserve is making this up as it goes and has no better idea of how this will end than it did in 2008 when it assured us all was well and there was nothing to see.

For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction; the "other side" of this trade awaits, the final frontier of this historic experiment that will be studied and debated and ridiculed for generations to come.

I'm not smart enough to know how, when, or what triggers it, but I wouldn't be true to the spirit of Minyanville if I didn't lay it out there for all to see; from there, the onus is on each and every one of us to make decisions that are consistent with our individual best interests.


Twitter: @todd_harrison

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