Market Commentary 9/30/21

The Dude's Dilemma

“It’s a very complicated case. . . You know, a lotta ins, lotta outs, lotta what-have-yous.” That is how “The Dude” described his dilemma in “The Big Lebowski”. In reality, however, it wasn’t all that complicated. The Dude, a deadbeat ne’er-do-well, was entrusted to deliver a $1 million dollar ransom. Not surprisingly, he didn’t make the drop and lost the money. His efforts were now focused on finding a way to get the money back so he could get back to life as he knew it, bowling and drinking with his friends.

The market’s dilemma these days is complicated, and just like The Dude, it revolves around money, the Fed’s money, a lot of it, and how the Fed is going to get it back. Over the past several years the Fed has been expanding its balance sheet through the outright purchase of government debt, a process known as “quantitative easing.” In 2008 the Fed balance sheet was less than $1 trillion. It doubled to $2.2 trillion the next year, and doubled again by 2014. It doubled again over the last two years, and is now more than $8.4 trillion. The Fed needs to return its balance sheet to more normal levels, but that reversal, known as “quantitative tightening”, could push interest rates higher and tank the economy, at a time that the economy is already struggling with supply chain issues and inflationary pressures. The Fed’s dilemma has generated speculation about “tapering”, “dot charts”, and “transitory” inflation (a lotta what-have-yous, as per The Dude).


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