Buy the rumor, sell the news

An old saying on Wall Street is “buy the rumor, sell the news.”  It means that markets tend to react to rumors by bidding up prices and then selling (pushing prices back down) when the news actually hits.

Unless you’ve never read my blog before, you know that I don’t tend to pay much attention so this short-term, trader-oriented approach.  However, I am sometimes so completely baffled by the way markets react to news and rumors that I can’t help but remember the old saying.

Since late August, the stock market has rallied strongly, as have commodities and gold.  Over the same period, the dollar has tanked.  Since spring, the bond market has rallied strongly, too.  What’s going on?

In my opinion, bonds have rallied strongly because economic numbers have been weak.  Unemployment remains high, GDP growth has slowed, the ECRI weekly leading index has tanked (but is recovering), and new unemployment claims have stayed stubbornly over 450,000.  I think bond holders are forecasting a sustained slowdown or recession and continued deflation.  This should not be good news for stocks, commodities and gold, and should be good for the dollar.  So, why is the opposite happening?

In short, the answer is that Federal Reserve board members, since late August, have been strongly hinting that the economy is so weak it may need another round of “quantitative easing.”  For those of you blissfully ignorant of what the heck quantitative easing is, it’s economic jargon for central bankers printing money (without physical backing).  In this case, they will print dollars, creating money from nothing, and use those dollars to purchase government bonds on the open market.

Why is that good for every market except the dollar?  Good question.  It’s good for bonds, because the government will buy bonds in large amounts.  It’s good for stocks because this will supposedly goose the economy.  It’s good for commodities and gold but bad for the dollar because it means inflation.  If you’re confused now, good for you.

Let me summarize: the U.S. economy is doing so badly that the Federal Reserve is going to try to intentionally create inflation.  Somehow that’s good for stocks, bonds, commodities and gold, but not the dollar?  That can’t be so.  Inflation may be good for commodities and gold and bad for the dollar, but it’s definitely not good for stocks and bonds.  Something’s amiss.

Which brings me back to: buy the rumor, sell the news.  The Fed has not officially announced its second round (the first was in 2008) of quantitative easing (colorfully dubbed QE2 by market watchers).  That is most likely to occur in early November.

I think that markets are buying the rumor of QE2 and may very well sell the news come early November.  Markets may be particularly unhappy if the news of QE2 doesn’t meet its grand expectations. 

In the long run, bad economic news can’t be good for stocks and commodities.  If the Fed does manage to create inflation with QE2 (which is not a given), it won’t be good for bonds, stocks or the dollar. 

How can bad news about the economy be good news for markets?  In the long run, it can’t be.

My ability to time the market is somewhere around zero, so take what I have to say with a big grain of salt.  I’m not buying this rumor, nor selling the news, but caution is highly recommended.

Nothing in this blog should be considered investment, financial, tax, or legal advice. The opinions, estimates and projections contained herein are subject to change without notice. Information throughout this blog has been obtained from sources believed to be accurate and reliable, but such accuracy cannot be guaranteed.

Buy the rumor, sell the news