Economy, Regs, & Taxes

The Fed's Role in the Stock Market's Bad Month

The Dow has experienced the worst calendar-year opening in its history.

Lewis Morris · Jan. 27, 2016

Government meddling in economic affairs never comes to good, but that’s never stopped bureaucrats from continuing to believe that each new attempt will be the exception that proves the value of their efforts. Take for instance the latest round of market turmoil upsetting the world economy.

This year, the stock market has been off to a historically lousy start — and that doesn’t affect only Wall Street fat cats, but the average Joe, who’s 401(k) is losing money. The market is a barometer of confidence in the overall economy, too, and the readings aren’t good.

Rock bottom oil prices are turning energy markets upside down, and while consumers may benefit in the short term, the ripple effect is causing lost jobs across the energy sector and related support industries. In China, stock fluctuations have led to 16% devaluation of the entire market. Closer to home, the Dow Jones Industrial Average has experienced the worst calendar-year opening in its history.

What gives?

Back in December, we explored the Federal Reserve’s plans to start hiking interest rates, which it had been holding at or near zero for close to a decade in an attempt to jump start the economy. In case you weren’t watching, it didn’t work.

When the Fed’s anticipated rate hike was announced, there was valid concern that the markets would get jittery. After all, commodities markets, junk bonds and traders in emerging markets did well for a time after the 2008 financial crisis on the cheap credit that the Fed’s actions provided. And now that the new year offers the potential of not one but several interest rate hikes, the markets are seizing up.

This should come as no surprise. But few people outside of the financial decision-making circles made up of Federal Reserve Board governors and assorted government technocrats have a true appreciation of just how much these people are screwing up our economy.

It would be unfair to lay all the economy’s problems at the Fed’s doorstep, and the big bank cannot keep investors from overreacting when it comes time to make course corrections. But the Fed’s actions have side-effects that impact various markets. For example, as pointed out by Greg Ip of The Wall Street Journal, “The oil and commodity selloff is similarly rooted in real factors, notably Saudi Arabia’s decision to stop defending the price of oil in 2014. But that has been amplified by the reversal of the flow of easy money, catalyzed by the Fed’s determination, starting in early 2015, to move toward normalizing rates.”

And the Fed’s slowness to tighten monetary policy at signs of a strengthening economy injected false hope and more than a little bravado among traders.

Now the American economy is facing another contraction of major proportions, and at the risk of being all doom and gloom, this new bump in the road could be deep enough to undo all the progress that has been made since 2008, meager though it has been. The Obama Recovery™ has been lousy all along, with most people feeling like we never left the recession behind. Unfortunately, signs are beginning to show that it’s going to get worse.

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