The above headline may be a bold statement, especially when the averages are already at levels that surpass this year’s stock market highs. But the actions and words of the Federal Reserve Bank this week convinces me that stocks have substantial upside ahead of them.
As I predicted, this week was a big one for investors and the country. The mid-term election results and the resulting legislative gridlock in Washington most pundits expect leaves the Fed as our only hope in reviving the economy and reducing unemployment. (see yesterday’s column “Don’t Fight the Fed”).
The $600 billion in additional quantitative easing (QE II) and Chairman Ben Bernanke’s Op-Ed piece in the Washington Post makes obvious that not only is the Fed targeting stronger growth in the economy but also higher prices in the stock market.
It is the first time in my career that a Fed chairman has explicitly targeted stocks as a tool to increase consumer spending, grow the economy and reduce unemployment.
Imagine my surprise when a day later, the central bank of Japan stated the very same thing but went a step further by also targeting real estate prices in their country.
This takes government support of the economy to an entirely new level in my opinion. During the financial crisis and its aftermath, the government (the Fed, U.S. Treasury and both the Bush and Obama Administrations) has on several occasions provided a back stop to the markets. They took actions to save corporations, provided support for declining securities such as mortgage backed securities, even money markets, and promised to support or bail out the U.S. financial markets with all the power at their disposal. It was one of the main reasons back in early 2009 that I turned bullish on the stock markets. I was betting on the government because they have much deeper pockets then the private sector and if they failed to fulfill their promise we were all doomed anyway.
This week’s comments from Bernanke have taken that implicit promise of “support” a big step further. If I read this right, Bernanke is saying that consumers and corporations are still worried about the economy and their own finances. Higher stocks, according to Bernanke, will restore confidence as Americans see their savings rebound. That confidence could lead to additional spending, which would mean more growth in the economy and ultimately lower unemployment. Therefore, insuring that stock prices go higher would accomplish the Fed’s mandate of lower unemployment.
Now that does not mean the Fed is simply going to jack up the market in one big melt up. There will still be corrections. The market is overdue for one right now but over the longer term, at least the next few quarters, I think the fix is in. So if you have been sitting in Treasury bonds or cash waiting for the inevitable second collapse in stocks you may have to wait several more years. In the meantime, you could miss out on a substantial rally in equities.
I also think that we will finally see a dip in the unemployment rate over the next few months. The stimulus money that was spent during the run-up to the elections has generated additional jobs and those jobs are beginning to show up in the data. In addition, I expect U.S. productivity will begin to falter as the economy perks up. So from where I sit, the next few quarters look pretty good for the stock market.