The junkies hooked on printed money

To what extent the US stockmarket is a “monetary policy junkie” getting a high from the central bank?

A recurring theme in the financial media in the past few years is the increasing influence of central banks in propping up stocks. An intriguing paper out this week from James Montier and Philip Pilkington of investment management group GMO attempts to quantify to what extent the US stockmarket is a "monetary policy junkie" getting a high from the central bank.

The authors built on research done by the Fed itself, which determined that a hefty proportion of annual returns came on days when the Fed's monetary policy committee (FOMC) was meeting. They compared the S&P 500's long-term progress from the mid-1960s with its performance excluding FOMC meeting days.

For the past 30 years or so, "these announcement days have had a major, and increasing, impact" on stocks. During the quantitative easing era, returns were substantially higher. In sum, "FOMC days account for 25% of the total real returns we have witnessed since 1984". Interestingly, it made little difference to the daily returns whether the Fed was actually cutting rates or raising them.

Subscribe to MoneyWeek

Subscribe to MoneyWeek today and get your first six magazine issues absolutely FREE

Get 6 issues free

Sign up to Money Morning

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Don't miss the latest investment and personal finances news, market analysis, plus money-saving tips with our free twice-daily newsletter

Sign up

The fact that it was meeting appears to have been enough toboost investors' animal spirits.The bottom line, though, is that the Fed has artificially inflatedvaluations over the past two decades. To gauge just howmuch, Montier and Pilkington looked at the S&P's cyclicallyadjusted price/earnings ratio (Cape) on the one hand, and theCape minus the influence on valuations of the FOMC days a"monetary policy-adjusted Cape".

There is currently a gap of around eight between the actualCape and the Cape minus FOMC days."If we remove the impactof the FOMC days, the Cape looks to be significantly moremean-reverting than it has been over the past 20 years," saythe authors. It would have peaked at a lower level in 2000 andbottomed at single digits (rather than around 11) in 2009 "levels of valuation associated with a serious crisis". In short,the Fed prevented valuations from hitting bargain-basementlevels, which would have implied healthier long-term returns.

Andrew Van Sickle

Andrew is the editor of MoneyWeek magazine. He grew up in Vienna and studied at the University of St Andrews, where he gained a first-class MA in geography & international relations.

After graduating he began to contribute to the foreign page of The Week and soon afterwards joined MoneyWeek at its inception in October 2000. He helped Merryn Somerset Webb establish it as Britain’s best-selling financial magazine, contributing to every section of the publication and specialising in macroeconomics and stockmarkets, before going part-time.

His freelance projects have included a 2009 relaunch of The Pharma Letter, where he covered corporate news and political developments in the German pharmaceuticals market for two years, and a multiyear stint as deputy editor of the Barclays account at Redwood, a marketing agency.

Andrew has been editing MoneyWeek since 2018, and continues to specialise in investment and news in German-speaking countries owing to his fluent command of the language.