Never under estimate the psychological power of a dangling carrot. For years the Federal Reserve used the promise of more QE as an incentive (carrot) to drive stocks higher.
This has worked well. Too well. The Dow Jones (DIA), Russell 2000 (IWM) and other major indexes are trading at all time highs and the Fed's next challenge is to tame the monster (rally) it created without killing it.
How can this be done? Perhaps with the 'reverse dangling carrot approach.' Before we talk about the reverse carrot approach, let's review how the 'dangling carrot approach' works.
The 'Dangling Carrot Approach'
At how many post FOMC meeting conferences did we hear Ben Bernanke assure Wall Street that the Federal Reserve is ready and willing to assist?
From July - November 2010 Bernanke's steady assurance was nearly as potent as QE2. Do you remember the August 2010 Jackson Hole summit? Bernanke then said: "I believe that additional purchases of longer-term securities … would be effective in further easing financial conditions."
The placebo QE effect was strong enough to lift the S&P 500 (SPY) 18% before QE2 became official on November 2, 2011. Thereafter the S&P rallied another 16% to the April 2011 high. QE2 ended in June 2011.
From October 2011 - September 2012 the Fed did nothing more than dangle the QE3 hopium carrot and the S&P 500 rallied 36%. QE3 was finally announced in September 2012, followed by "QE4" (replacement of Operation Twist by outright Treasury purchases).
Containing The Fed Monster - The 'Reverse Dangling Carrot Approach'
From 2009 - 2012 the Fed talked up QE and stocks. Today the S&P 500 trades 135% above its 2009 low and the Fed knows it created a monster (rally). The Fed also knows that everyone else knows this is a phony funny money rally.
How can the Fed contain the monster it created or take away the punchbowl without causing a severe hangover? The 'reverse dangling carrot approach' is born.
Dropping hints about more QE contained the bear market, so dropping hints about reducing QE should tame the QE bull market. This process may have already begun.
The release of the Fed minutes on February 20, showed dissention among committee members about the duration and scope of QE.
Whether this division over the issue is real or just a new PR strategy to contain the Fed monster, I do not know. But we do know that stocks sold off right after the Fed minutes were released.
Just like controlled fires can stimulate a forest, the Fed may try to light 'controlled burns' to manage the stock market. As in nature, the summer time (sell in May and go away) is a good time for a 'controlled burn' on Wall Street. Shareholders should plan accordingly.
I personally view the Fed like an unwelcome guest. Some guests bring happiness wherever they go. Some (like the Fed), whenever they go. Unfortunately, the Fed's comment about leaving (scaling back QE) appear to be only a tease.