There’s no doubt that the fate of the market/economy upon the completion of QE2 is one of the hottest questions going around.
It’s believed by many that the market will stumble once the program comes to an end — assuming there’s no QE3 — but in the meantime, the punchbowl is still here, and thus it’s time to keep partying (for now).
In his latest weekly note, John Hussman — who it must be said, has been bearish throughout the rally — thinks people may be overoptimistic in terms of how long they have left to party.
Market participants widely assume that they are relatively “safe” to take speculative risk through mid-year, on the belief that the Fed’s policy of quantitative easing will be sustained through the end of June. But looking at the monetary data, it is not clear that the Fed’s statement “by the end of the second quarter” means “precisely until the end of the second quarter.”
We can evaluate the pace of QE2 in two ways. One is by looking directly at the monetary base. QE2 transactions expand the Fed’s balance sheet, increasing its assets (Treasury debt) and simultaneously increasing its liabilities (currency and bank reserves). So we can measure the progress of QE2 by calculating the change in the monetary base since QE2 was initiated.
Monetary Base 11/03/10: $1985.1 billion
Monetary Base 04/06/11: $2490.3 billion
QE2 completed based on change in Monetary Base: $505.2 billion
A second way to evaluate the pace of QE2 is to go directly to the information on “permanent open market operations” (POMO) conducted by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. However, the POMO figures also include reinvestment of principal repayments from mortgage-backed securities. So a portion of these transactions do not change the monetary base – they simply exchange mortgage-backed assets with Treasury securities. The cumulative par amount accepted by NY FRB from 11/04/10 through 04/07/11 is $523.2 billion
A $600 billion addition to the monetary base from QE2 would leave the Fed with only about $94.8 billion of QE2 transactions remaining. Alternatively, the targeted size of the Fed’s SOMA (System Open Market Account) portfolio is $2600 billion at the end of QE2 (this is the primary repository of assets backing the monetary base, the remainder representing the Maiden Lane portfolios and about $11 billion in gold). As of April 6, the SOMA portfolio was already at $2421 billion. This would leave a larger $179 billion remaining to QE2, putting the program about 70% complete. The average pace of Fed purchases since February has been about $5.5 billion per business day, with about $4.7 billion adding to the monetary base, on average (the rest representing mortgage principal reinvestments). That leaves QE2 somewhere between 20 to 38 business days from completion.
The next FOMC meeting is on April 26-27. While there has been some debate on whether the Fed might decide at that meeting to terminate the policy of QE2 early, that debate is actually moot. By the time the Fed meets later this month, QE2 will already be at least 85% complete.