Are Markets in Withdrawal?

04/03/2012 5:00 pm EST

Focus: MARKETS

Jim Jubak

Founder and Editor, JubakPicks.com

The Fed seems to be retreating from further easing just when the market’s addiction to easy money seems to be growing, writes MoneyShow’s Jim Jubak, also of Jubak’s Picks.

Somehow Wall Street managed to convince itself that the minutes released today from the March 13 Open Market Committee meeting would show that the Federal Reserve is thinking about another round of quantitative easing in June.

When the minutes, released at 2 p.m. New York time, didn’t show any indication that the Fed was planning to expand its balance sheet again and do more bond buying, stocks staged a mild retreat, falling to 1,404.70 on the S&P 500 at 2:40 p.m. from 1,414 at 2 p.m.

To those on Wall Street who were convinced that the Fed had talked about plans for more quantitative easing, the February minutes were especially disappointing, since they were a step back from the comments at the January Fed meeting about the need for a new program of bond buying.

In the minutes from the January meeting, a couple of members said that if the economy continued at its current pace it “could warrant the initiation of additional securities purchases before long.” In the February minutes, that weakened to several expressions of the need for another round of quantitative easing if the economy weakened.

Today’s retreat (even if modest) in stock prices would seem to buttress the position of critics of global central bank policy, who say that the financial markets have gotten addicted to ever-increasing floods of money from the Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, the Bank of Japan, and others into the financial markets. And who worry that the recent recovery in asset prices isn’t sustainable once banks stop adding to the global money supply.

I’m not sure, however, that investors should find any comfort in any vindication of that position. Wall Street seems to be in the odd position of rooting for the economy to stumble so that the Fed will provide another round of cheap money to, once again, prop up asset prices.

From that point of view, the section of the March minutes which said “participants agreed that the information received since the Committee’s previous meeting, while mixed, had been positive, on balance, and suggested that the economy had been expanding moderately” is bad news.

Does that suggest that Wall Street doesn’t have much confidence that company earnings in the first quarter will be enough to keep this rally going? We’ll find out next week, as earnings season begins on Tuesday, April 10, with Alcoa’s (AA) report after the close of New York trading.

Full disclosure: I don’t own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this post in my personal portfolio. The mutual fund I manage, Jubak Global Equity Fund, may or may not now own positions in any stock mentioned in this post. The fund did own shares of Polypore International as of the end of September. For a full list of the stocks in the fund as of the end of September see the fund’s portfolio here.

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