Tags: Packer | REIT | MLP | Fed

Do-Nothing Fed Takes a Step in the Right Direction

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Tuesday, 04 Sep 2012 08:14 AM Current | Bio | Archive

On Friday, the markets quickly gyrated after Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke's key speech at the Federal Reserve’s meeting in Jackson Hole, Wyo.

At first, the markets pulled back. There was no new announcement to ease the economy anytime soon, which most interpret as being before the November elections.

But within the speech was language that indicated the Fed would act further if needed. That was enough to encourage stocks to blindly rally.

The Fed isn’t alone in its reluctance to act. China has resisted further measures to bolster its slowing economy, and the European Central Bank hasn’t fully ruled out cutting rates, but still has to digest the bad debts of Greece and Spain.

It’s a step in the right direction for the Fed. The previous rounds of monetary easing have led to sharp rallies in commodity prices, harming consumers at the gas pump and grocery store and showing little real gains in the economy outside higher inflation rates.

What is needed next isn’t a change in monetary policy. We need fiscal change. In the United States, that means resolving the upcoming “fiscal cliff” that will increasingly weigh on the markets as we enter the fall.

Without any change, we can expect automatic spending cuts to kick in and tax breaks to expire at the end of the year. That could be a one-two punch that hurts everyone, whether they’re dependent on the government to make ends meet or if they’re part of the diminishing taxpayer class.

Political leadership, however, remains lacking on the issue. And it likely will be until the election is decided.

What should investors do? First, possibly brace for some form of higher tax rates. This can be partially offset by investing in real estate investment trusts (REITs) or master limited partnerships (MLPs).

These types of companies must pay out 90 percent of their income to shareholders in the form of dividends at preferential income tax rates. This means that, at a time when the overall market is paying less than 2 percent in dividends and money market accounts and bonds don’t pay squat, you can lock in yields of over 6 or 7 percent. MLPs also offer the chance for investors to offset their taxes with depreciation expenses.

Since markets have interpreted Bernanke’s speech to imply that there might be more easing down the road if the economy stays weak, you’ll be better off with these high-yielding, tax-deferred investments than simply sitting in cash.

Commodity investments should also perform well, although they won’t offer high-income payments.

Fiscal changes or not, central banks around the world are still keeping interest rates artificially low. Even without directly easing, policies are in place to ensure higher rates of inflation down the road.

The Fed’s announcement of no more new easing might be but a temporary one. Fiscal changes might or might not happen. No matter what happens, make sure you get paid to wait out the uncertainty.

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2012-14-04
Tuesday, 04 Sep 2012 08:14 AM
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