The Fed's failure to announce some sort of tapering of its QE program, despite the consensus of an overwhelming percentage of economists who expected action, once again reveals the degree to which mainstream analysts have overestimated the strength of our current economy. The Fed understands, as the market seems not to, that the current "recovery" could not survive without continuation of massive monetary stimulus. Mainstream economists have mistaken the symptoms of the Fed's monetary expansion, most notably rising stock and real estate prices, as signs of real and sustainable growth. But the current asset price bubbles have nothing to do with the real economy. To the contrary, they are setting up for a painful correction that will likely be worse than the one we experienced five years ago.
Given the strong anticipation for a taper announcement, today's relief rally should come as no surprise. However, the Fed's inaction should be perceived by many as an admission that the economy is fundamentally weak. Once that possibility takes hold, today's euphoria is likely to dissipate. Perhaps the Fed's inaction may cause many to wonder if the economy is not as strong as they believed. This could ultimately lead to an even bigger sell off than what we would have seen today if the Fed had come through with a taper announcement.
A major factor in the current "recovery" is the confidence that has been created by rising stock and real estate prices. On Wall Street confidence can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the Fed were to make its fears more explicit that confidence could drift away. As a result, I believe that they chose a path of continuous obfuscation. But in so doing they lost control of the message.
The Fed knows that the appearance of economic health would evaporate if stimulus were withdrawn. But like Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men, it also knows that the markets can't handle the truth. Over the past year Ben Bernanke and other top Fed officials have tried mightily to communicate to the markets that no decisions had been made on the future and timing of QE reductions and that its moves would depend on the data. On many occasions they even hedged the automatic nature of their data triggers and moved the goal posts that supposedly guided their policy. But as a result of this continuous obfuscation, the Fed lost control of its message.