Why Markets Aren't Afraid of IMF Fearmongering

Why Markets Aren't Afraid of IMF Fearmongering

Given how much investors hang on every word of the Federal Reserve, you'd think that a central-bank-like entity with international scope would potentially carry even more weight. But the International Monetary Fund's warnings for the Fed regarding its planned exit from its quantitative-easing program seemed to fall on deaf ears today, having little lasting impact on stocks. Steep drops have moderated to modest declines in U.S. stock markets: As of 2:55 p.m. EDT, the Dow Jones Industrials are down just 35 points.

What the IMF believes
One reason investors may not have paid much attention to the IMF is that its comments seemed out of touch with the domestic perspective on what the Fed has done lately. The IMF said the Fed needs to communicate clearly with investors in order to avoid surprises about how it plans to wind down its $85 billion-per-month bond purchases. Otherwise, the IMF believes there could be another spike bond-market volatility, as bond investors would potentially flee the market due to uncertainty about exactly what monetary-policy moves the Fed would make under certain economic conditions.

Yet the Fed has done just about everything it can to be transparent about its moves. Under previous leadership, the Fed was far less open about its intentions. By contrast, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has held news conferences, promptly released minutes of meetings, and done his best to set concrete guidelines and milestones that would prompt the Fed to change policy. Nevertheless, that didn't stop bond markets from reacting severely in the past couple of months when investors finally realized that a tapering of QE might come sooner rather than later.

Meanwhile, markets in Europe showed little reaction to the IMF's call for the European Central Bank to cut interest rates. The IMF cited the interrelationship between the Fed and Europe's economy, arguing that Fed tapering could not only jeopardize conditions in the U.S. but also have a negative impact on Europe's potential recovery. Yet stock markets in Europe didn't respond much to the dramatic and fear-filled IMF assessment, with the FTSE 100 falling half a percent and the German DAX declining by two-thirds of a percent.

Pay attention to what matters
In the end, the reason the Fed carries more weight than the IMF is that the Fed has more direct control of U.S. interest rates and the value of the U.S. dollar. So long as the U.S. keeps its economic sovereignty in the international community, the IMF will play only a subsidiary role in guiding world monetary policy. In the meantime, expect the Fed to keep its own counsel and let things play out on the domestic monetary-policy front according to its own agenda.

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