The Fed: Its History & Connection to the Markets Pt 1

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Over the last several market days, there was an increase in volatility and selloff in the equity markets. June 11th the Dow had its biggest one-day loss since March. This came one day after Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and the rest of the board concluded their two-day meeting and held a post-meeting press conference. In his press conference Powell announced that interest rates were left unchanged and near zero, unemployment was at an all-time high, and he projected a very slow economic recovery from this “pandemic-induced” recession. So, what is the Fed’s connection to the markets and economy, and what type of impact can they have? It is always best to start with why the Federal Reserve System was created and for what purpose. This blog will briefly cover the history of America’s central banking system, its structure and its overall purposes.

After the revolutionary war, Alexander Hamilton led several attempts at forming a central bank for the United States, but each attempt failed. Up until 1913, the United States was plagued with frequent financial pandemics, liquidity issues and high rates of bank failures. As a new country with these issues, the U.S. economy became a risky place for capital to be invested both for international and domestic investors. This lack of trust in the banking system was stunting America’s growth in its agriculture and industry. It was finally at the demand of J.P. Morgan, after the panic of 1907, that he pressured the government into acting on a central bank plan. J.P. Morgan, a wealthy financier, had bailed out the federal government several times up to that point. One instance was in 1895 by providing $65 million in gold, and another in 1907 when he convinced other bankers to provided capital and restore liquidity to desperate markets. That was after Morgan had already bailed out several trust companies, a leading brokerage house, New York City and the New York Stock Exchange.

Thus, on December 23, 1913 Congress passed, and President Woodrow Wilson signed, the Federal Reserve Act of 1913. The Federal Reserve website (www.federalreserve.gov) states this, “The Federal Reserve Act of 1913 established the Federal Reserve System as the central bank of the United States to provide the nation with a safer, more flexible, and more stable monetary and financial system.” The Federal Reserve, or commonly referred to as the Fed, has the purpose of managing the nation’s monetary policy by manipulating the money supply and interest rates. This was to smooth out the booms and busts of normal economic cycles. Determined to not have one central bank, the Federal Reserve Act purposely established three entities:

  1. A central governing board
  2. A decentralized operating structure of 12 reserve banks
  3. A combination of public and private characteristics (Federal Open Market Committee)

The Federal Reserve board initially consisted of seven members: the Secretary of Treasury and Comptroller of the Currency, and then five others appointed by the US President and confirmed by the Senate. Of those five appointed members, the President would designate one as “governor” and one as “vice governor”. The active executor of the Fed would be the governor. The board leadership structure has gone through several changes to morph into what we are familiar with today which is a Chair, a Vice Chair, and Vice Chair for Supervision and then 4 other board seats, making a total of 7 possible positions. Each are nominated by the President of the United States and confirmed by the Senate. Each member serves a 14-year term, with one term beginning every two years on the 1st of February on even numbered years. The following are the current Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System:

  • Chair: Jerome H. Powell
  • Vice Chair: Richard H. Clarida
  • Vice Chair for Supervision: Randal Quarles
  • Michelle W. Bowman
  • Lael Brainard
  • Vacant Position
  • Vacant Position

The Act established 12 Federal Reserve banks instead of relying on one “central bank” and they were based on a geographic division of the United States. In 1913, these boundaries were based on the biggest trade regions and their related economic needs. The 12 bank districts are: Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Richmond, St. Louis, Atlanta, Chicago, Minneapolis, Kansas City, Dallas, and San Francisco. These banks operate independently but under the greater supervision of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors. Each bank has a nine-member board of directors and is responsible for gathering data on the economies and businesses of its local communities. This information is used to influence decisions made by the Board of Governors and the other entities of the system.

The Fed is in its 10th edition of The Federal Reserve System Purposes & Functions which details the structure, responsibilities and aims of the U.S. central banking system. The Fed performs five functions to promote the operation of the U.S. economy:

  1. Conducts the nation’s monetary policy to promote maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates in the U.S. economy
  2. Promotes the stability of the financial system and seeks to minimize and contain systemic risks through active monitoring and engagement in the U.S. and abroad
  3. Promotes the safety and soundness of individual financial institutions and monitors their impact on the financial system as a whole
  4. Fosters payment and settlement system safety and efficiency through services to the banking industry and the U.S. government that facilitates U.S.-dollar transactions and payments
  5. Promotes consumer protection and community development through consumer-focused supervision and examination, research and analysis of emerging consumer issues and trends, community economic development activities, and the administration of consumer laws and regulations.

Understanding why the Federal Reserve System was created and for what purpose, establishes a framework to further understand how the Fed and their monetary policy affects the behavior of the markets. No matter the investment style or philosophy (active vs. passive management, technical analysis vs. fundamental analysis) what the Fed decides to do in regards to money supply and interest rates does in fact influence buy and sell decisions for both retail and institutional investors. However, instead of skimming the minutes of Fed meetings or staying glued to a post-meeting press conference or senate hearing, we prioritize the analysis of price movement rather than the underlying fundamentals of a security or economic numbers. It is our belief that what is happening both in the economy and with a particular company (if stock) or a company’s debt (if bond) is all reflected and priced into the security, index, market, etc. By placing our priority on analyzing price trends, we are able to be active traders on what is currently happening. This allows us to manage risk for our clients and shareholders.

Active Portfolio Management In Spite of Covid-19

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Breaking News: Over 270,000 viral deaths globally (over 75,000 in the United States) and it is still spreading.  Global economies have been almost completely shut down.  Airlines shut down.  Entire cities turn in to ghost towns.  Stay in your homes. No eggs, meat or toilet paper anywhere.  Oil is free.

At first this sounds like the backdrop to a new novel written by Stephen King.  But this is the current reality and it could be here for some time to come.  To think that only three months ago the stock market was hitting new all-time highs and everyone who wanted a job had one.  Kids were all in school learning.  Sports fans were happy.  Graduations, weddings and vacations were being planned.  All was well with the world!
On March 9, 2009, the last Bear Market ended.  The ensuing Bull Market lasted eleven years, the longest ever recorded.  There is always a catalyst that pushes the stock market over the edge.  Everyone has read about the Great Depression, the 73-74 bear market and the Crash of 87’.  It was the dot-com bubble in 2000, the real estate bubble/bank-auto bailout in 2007-2008 and now the coronavirus pandemic/oil crisis in 2020.

Not since World War II has there been such a global event that has affected how all 7.8 billion humans on this planet live their daily lives.  During this stressful period, the last thing investors need to worry about is the health of their investment portfolios.  Many investors saw 20-60% drawdowns in Q1 2020.  Many large-cap companies like Delta Air Lines, Boeing, Carnival and Occidental Petroleum are down 60%+ YTD (through 5/5/20).

At Spectrum Financial our client portfolios are actively managed, every day, all day long.  We allocate client money based on their individual risk level, time horizon and personal goals.  One of the services Spectrum offers is our AssetMaxx℠ program.  It provides access to three distinct actively managed funds for portfolio design. These funds can adjust exposure to the markets based on current environments. At times, these funds may be invested 100% in cash or cash equivalents. Spectrum clients have historically benefited from active management in managing risk.  This current environment is no different.  In the 1st quarter this year the Spectrum Low Volatility fund (SVARX) was up 1.60%, the Hundredfold Select Alternative fund (SFHYX) was up 4.40% and the Spectrum Advisors Preferred fund (SAPEX) was down 13.02%. The S&P 500 TR Index was down 19.60% and the Barclays High Yield VL Index was down 12.32% during the same period. Standard performance data can be reviewed at https://investspectrum.com/AssetMaxx.cshtml under our AssetMaxx℠ Service, or at each Fund’s website, http://thespectrumfunds.com or http://hundredfoldselect.com/ .

Markets do not like uncertainty.  With the ongoing Russia/Saudia Arabia oil feud, the aggressive behavior of Iran and North Korea, the trade war with China and the Coronavirus pandemic, there are plenty of elephants in the room to keep this market nervous and volatile in the short-term.  We don’t know when the storm will be over, but our active management helps clients feel secure as we control exposure in this volatile market.

For over 20 years I have worked with Ralph Doudera, the CEO and head Portfolio Manager of Spectrum Financial, Inc.  One of my favorite quotes that he has repeated over the years is “I want to sleep good at night, and I want our clients to sleep good as well.”  Have you been sleeping good lately?

We encourage you to call and speak with our Client Services team at 888-463-7600 to learn in more detail the programs we offer here.  You can also go to our website www.investspectrum.com to learn more about our company, the team and timely updates about the actively managed funds used in our AssetMaxx℠ program.

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Spectrum Financial, Inc 2020