Would $100 billion a month from the Fed be a disappointment?

10/25/2010 8:30 am EST

Focus: STOCKS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

 Will an emerging consensus on the Federal Reserve’s new program of quantitative easing take a little bit of “whoopee” out of stocks and shift the emphasis to individual corporate earnings reports.

There’s been a consensus for a while that the Fed will soon announce a new program of quantitative easing designed to support the U.S. economy by driving down longer-term interest rates. That consensus has indeed been a key force in moving U.S. stocks higher over the last few weeks 

But there’s been no consensus on how much money the Fed would spend buying Treasury notes in pursuit of that goal. $1.7 billion, the size of the first round of quantitative easing? That too high? How about $1 trillion? Still too high? $500 billion? Too low?

With the next meeting of the Federal Reserve still two weeks away on November 2-3, the consensus now seems to be moving to coalesce around a belief that the Fed will adopt an incremental approach. The figure being bandied about is $100 billion a month. The duration of the program would depend on conditions in the economy.

There are pluses and minuses for the financial markets in such an approach. Such a plan would turn speculation into real buying by the Fed and that would be a plus for stocks and bonds. It wouldn’t provide the kind of big pop for stocks and bonds that announcing a $1 trillion shock and awe program would. That might well have injected too much short-term juice into the financial markets for their long-term health, but it sure would have got investors’ attention.

If the consensus does actually turn out to mirror the Fed’s plan, this will take quantitative easing off Wall Street’s radar screen. And with the question of how much easing no longer front and center, it’s likely that Wall Street will go back to business as usual. That would shift attention back, first, to end of the year tax selling, and second, to guessing the trend in fourth quarter earnings due in January.

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