Investors Betting on 'Taper Lite'

NEW YORK (Sept 15)  Most of the beneficiaries of a Federal Reserve commitment to the suppression of lending rates -- homebuilders, timber producers, real estate investment trusts -- have headed the leader board over the last week.

Frankly, I think investors have mostly interpreted the likelihood of Fed action (or inaction) correctly. Supposedly, the Fed is responsible for two things -- steady employment and modest inflation. The worst labor force participate rate since 1978 is indicative of employment woes, not vibrant job growth, while exceptionally flat wages stoke the debate over whether inflation or deflation is the primary concern; either way, inflation is below Fed targeted levels.

Don't misunderstand. If it were up to me, I would have ended the emergency quantitative easing back at QE1 and allowed the economy to heal on its own from there. So I am not advocating endless bond purchases with electronic money printing. Nevertheless, it is clear to me the Fed has little reason to slow its purchases substantially other than to break our collective addiction to unnaturally low lending rates. The Fed simply does not have the stomach or wherewithal to break that addiction with a major tapering.

Indeed, one should expect an exceptionally modest tapering, a token gesture, if you will. My "guestimate" is 10%, or $8.5 billion less, leaving the institution still in the market for the acquisition of a whopping $76.5 billion in U.S. debt each month. Moreover, I expect the Fed to acknowledge increasing weakness in the job market, which may be interpreted by investors as a sign that the Fed will not continue tapering activity until 2014 at the earliest.

Clearly, the seven-day stocks market rally for the S&P500 is largely tethered to a belief that the Fed won't be very active on Sept. 18. That said, there is a wide range of possibilities that might prove the bets of market participants as well as my "guestimate" wrong.

Add the potential for the federal government to create yet another debt ceiling debacle, and I am content to keep plenty of cash on hand. It may be difficult to be patient for selloffs, but patience is required for long-term investing success.

(Source: Gary Gordon)