Well, the Fed has cut the cost of borrowing to avert what many see as a financial crisis. There are several ways to view this move, I guess. One view, as expressed here, is that central banks created the current asset price bubble and appetite for dubious credit products like collateralised debt obligations – bundles of bonds and loans – by cheap interest rates. Central banks caused this state of affairs, so they should let hedge funds and other institutions go bankrupt as part of the natural, if painful Darwinian process of the market. It sounds harsh, but a few casualties, while not much fun for the immediate investors, are a useful warning about how investments can go awry.
On the other hand, the fall in stock market prices since late July has been so fast that it threatens to cause a wider, systemic economic problem, and the rate cut was justified.
I take the former view, by and large. The underlying state of the UK economy, for example, is reasonable, if not great (thanks to the taxes and regulations of our current prime minister, Gordon Brown). But corporate earnings have been strong, consumer spending is okay – it has weakened a bit but hardly fallen off a cliff – and the cost of equities, when set against expected corporate earnings, are pretty cheap by long term standards. (The FTSE 100 index is priced on a multiple of about 12 times earnings, the cheapest since the early 1990s). The Fed, by cutting rates in this way, is more or less saying that stock market bears cannot make money, that the only way to bet is for stocks to rise. This ultimately creates a serious moral hazard by encouraging risky borrowing and lending behaviour.
I think we’ll regret what the Fed did today. Whoever said August was dull?