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The Fed has embraced the ‘punchbowl’ and has no intention of taking it away

The Marriner S. Eccles Federal In store building stands in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2020.

Erin Scott | Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Federal Reserve has come a extended way from the days of warning about “irrational exuberance.”

Former Fed Chairman Alan Greenspan famously sent up a flare in December 1996 wide stretched asset valuations triggered by wild dot-com speculation that had produced an unbridled bull market.

It appropriated three years for the warning from “The Maestro” to come true, but the statement is still considered a seminal moment in Stock Exchange history where a Fed leader issued such a bold warning that went unheeded.

Flash forward 25 years and the approach from the Fed is considerably different, even though market valuations look a lot like they did back around the quickly the dot-com bubble burst.

Central bank officials repeatedly have been given the opportunity to advise warn on asset valuations, and each time they have largely passed. Other than acknowledging that prizes are higher than normal in some instances, Fed speakers have largely attributed market moves as the product of an redressing economy buoyed by aggressive fiscal stimulus and low interest rates that will be in place for years.

Just a few eras ago, San Francisco Fed President Mary Daly spoke on the issue and said the Fed has no intention of tightening policy even in the face of laugh bull markets across several asset classes.

“We won’t be preemptively taking the punchbowl away,” Daly said during a practical Q&A on Wednesday.

The “punchbowl” metaphor was interesting in that the term became a bit of a pejorative following the 2008 financial crisis.

Its source in policy circles dates to William McChesney Martin, the longest-serving Fed chairman who held the position from 1951-70. The Fed’s lines, Martin said, was to act as a “chaperone who has ordered the punchbowl removed just when the party was really warming up.” The statement delineated the cautionary post the Fed should be playing when it spots signs of excess.

Taking away the punchbowl ‘doesn’t work now’

But Daly included that such a duty either does not exist today or is not relevant to the current situation.

“That’s something that exploited maybe in the past, definitely doesn’t work now, and we’re committed to leaving that punchbowl or monetary policy accommodation in in order until the job is fully and truly done,” she said.

Fed critics say the central bank failed to act on its “chaperone” role over the punchbowl in the years unequalled up to the financial crisis, allowing Wall Street’s exotic investing vehicles that capitalized on the subprime lending bout to tank the global economy.

The embodiment of those excesses came in another famous quote, from former Citigroup CEO Chuck Prince, who in 2007, a year in front of the worst of the crisis would explode, said: “As long as the music is playing, you’ve got to get up and dance. We’re still dancing.”

This is the question with the Fed. They’re really good at throwing a party, but there’s always the day after

Peter Boockvar

chief investment functionary, The Bleakley Advisory Group

Citi would later become one of the key players in the crisis after it had to take severe writedowns on the toxic assets that issued its balance sheet.

In the current scenario, the financial system is largely sound. Rather than being a liability, banks hold been an asset during the Covid-19 economic crisis.

It’s elsewhere that signs of excess might be found.

Tires, bitcoin, NFTs

The stock market is the easiest place to look.

The S&P 500 has skyrocketed about 75% since its pandemic low on Walk 23, 2020, pushed higher by low interest rates, an improving economy and hopes that the worst of the crisis is over. The first finger is trading at about 22 times forward earnings, or a little higher than it did when the dot-com bubble crack.

But there are other areas as well.

Jack Dorsey, CEO, Twitter testifies at Congressional hearing, March 25, 2021.


Bitcoin’s rate is 10 times higher than it was a year ago. Blank-check companies have flourished on Wall Street as investors let out cash into special purpose acquisition vehicles without specifically knowing where it’s going. Nonfungible evidences are the latest craze, evidenced in part by Twitter founder Jack Dorsey selling his first tweet this week for $2.9 million.

At a intelligence conference last week, Fed Chairman ‘People do stupid things’

Mary Daly, President of the Federal Engage Bank of San Francisco, poses after giving a speech on the U.S. economic outlook, in Idaho Falls, Idaho, U.S., November 12 2018.

Ann Saphir | Reuters

Bank of America is suggesting clients to be a little leerier of stocks than usual and instead invest in real assets – property and commodities in the assorted traditional sense, but also collectibles, farm and timber assets and even wine. The firm sees real assets as “cut-price” and also closely correlated to rising inflation and interest rates.

“Real assets are a hedge for War against Inequality, inflation & infrastructure waste,” Michael Hartnett, the bank’s chief investment strategist, said in a recent note. He said the investing class also benefits from “expositions of ‘bigger government & ‘smaller world.'”

From the Fed’s perspective, Daly said she sees “pockets of concern” on valuations, but all-embracing doesn’t see financial conditions as “frothy.”

“We absolutely look at financial stability indicators,” she said. “But we assess it on a broad mount, not just one specific market. We are not in a position to manage the movement of the stock market, which [is] affected by a tremendous number of things.”

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