The capital market for new issues and refinancing of corporate debt has been on a tear the past few months – I think that ended yesterday. That’s because the dreaded Taper Talk has resurfaced. The Fed minutes yesterday rekindled Fear of Taper.
The Taper On/Taper Off story has been with us for six months now. It started in May with the release of the Fed minutes and the first “whisper’ of the Taper. The talk of the Taper reached a zenith in late September as the debt markets were convinced that Bernanke would start the Taper in October. It was a big surprise to players when Good Ole Ben chose to delay the October start and push it to sometime in the future; and now it’s back.
An interesting consequence of Taper Talk is how it affects the Corporate new issue bond calendar. The following chart shows how talk of taper killed the ReFi market in June/July/October, and it also shows how the window for new issues opened right after Big Ben delayed the taper for a few months. Up until yesterday the corporate finance types and bond dealers on Wall Street were having a daily party. As of today, they will be back to struggling to push deals out the door.
My read of this is that the debt market does not work well unless there is the perception of QE -4 ever. The capital markets freeze up whenever the threat of a disruption of the $85B of grease the Fed provides every month arises. When the capital markets are working well, the deal flow is there, and this is good for the economy. When there is Taper Talk the refinancing gears get gummed up, and it acts like a drag on the economy.
There is no doubt in my mind that Yellen is going to push off the Taper for as long as she can. But even the Great Dove can’t push the Taper off for too long. I think that Yellen will be forced to initiate a Taper by March. That suggests that there is a four month window before the actual event, but I don’t think the Taper Talk is going to subside as it did in October/November. The Talk of the Taper will be with us (and the closing of the refinancing window) for months. As a result we are going to see a pause in the up move in equities and a closing of the bond window. This will translate into an economic drag. Whatever your forecast of 4th Q and 1st Q growth were on Tuesday, you should mark them down a bit today.
QE is the lubricant of the system. But when it is ended (or threatened to end) it causes pain. We’ve had five years of grease, now we are going to have to pay a price. My guess is that this new round of Taper Talk is going to hurt pretty bad. The reason is that there is next to no basis to believe that QE can be continued beyond a few more months. The Taper sign is now on, it will remain on until the talk is turned into action. When the Taper Talk sign is on, beware. The sign is now brightly lit.