At present we are in the early stages of the latest Federal Reserve intervention, Operation Twist, which was officially announced on September 21, after several days of rumors. We've now seen several bouts of aggressive Fed attempts to manage the economy following the collapse of the two Bear Stearns hedge funds in mid-2007 about three month before the all-time high in the S&P 500 (SPY).
Initially the Fed Funds Rate (FFR) underwent a series of cuts, and with the bankruptcy of Bear Stearns, the Fed launched a veritable alphabet soup of tactical strategies intended to stave off economic disaster: PDCF, TALF, TARP, etc. But shortly after the bankruptcy filing, the Fed really swung into high gear. The FFR fell off a cliff and soon bounced in the lower half of the 0 to 0.25% ZIRP (Zero Interest Rate Policy). The thud to the FFR bottom coincided with the first of two rounds of quantitative easing in an effort to promote increased lending and liquidity.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, this chart needs little additional explanation — except perhaps for those who are puzzled by the Jackson Hole callout. The reference is to Chairman Bernanke's speech at the Fed's 2010 annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Bernanke strongly hinted about the forthcoming Federal Reserve intervention that was subsequently initiated in November of 2010, namely, the second round of quantitative easing, aka QE2.
The lastest major strategy, Operation Twist, which was announced on September 21st, has just begun and will run through June 2012. The Fed will sell $400 billion of shorter-term Treasury securities and use the proceeds to buy longer-term Treasury securities in an effort to lower interest rates.
(Click chart to expand)
Prior to the much-rumored "Twist" announcement, the yield on the 10-year note had been hovering around 2.19, which was 47 basis points above the historic closing low of 1.72 set a month earlier on September 22.
The FFR has been essentially at zero for three years. What has the 10-year note done since the "Twist" announcement? The interim high daily close was 2.42 on October 27th. The interim low was 2.01 on November 1st.
It's too soon, of course, to tell how successful the "Twist" strategy will be for lowering interest rates; the program is barely off the ground. According to the Freddie Mac survey, the 30-year mortgage rate has fluctuated between 3.94% and 4.18% since the first week in September, and the most recent average (as of November 3rd) is 4.00%. But we will watch Treasury yields and mortgage rates in the weeks ahead to see if Operation Twist lives up to the Fed's expectations.
The past three years have been an exciting time for many professional traders and their seasoned amateur counterparts. And it's been a dream-come-true for institutional HFT (high frequency trading) with computerized algorithms. Of course, there have been perils, even for seasoned pros, as the bankruptcy of MF Global (MFGLQ.PK) illustrates.
On the other hand, savers — those benighted souls looking for income from CDs, Treasury yields, and FDIC insured money markets — have had a rude introduction to the new reality, one that will apparently be with us for a very long time.