Will the next Fed meeting’s decision really make a difference?

So now we're all on tenterhooks until 18th Sept.

So now we're all on tenterhooks until 18th Sept., when we hear if the Federal Reserve has decided to reduce, (‘taper’), its monthly bond purchases. Traders, Treasurers, pension pot holders, emerging market Finance Ministers-this is what we’ve been waiting for since Bernanke first warned us in May/June it may be coming.
However, this certainly will be no surprise-this is not 1994 with its surprise Fed hike and bond market rout. The Fed has done a fantastic job of delivering an unpopular message-the start of the end of cheap money-in a manner designed to cause the least possible market volatility, and maybe the still buoyant level of the S&P 500 is eloquent testimony to their success. The reasons for the S&P's resilience are important.
Developed market countries' stock markets have retained their poise because US bonds yields have been going up for a good reason-and that is the return of growth and optimism, not just in the US, but also in Europe and China. The rise in 10-yr US Treasury yields from 1.4% to 3.0% is best described as a healthy normalisation, as it has been driven by a reduction in the all-pervading fear which has gripped the market since the Lehman bankruptcy, first, and then the emergence of the Eurozone crisis, once the depth of Greece's fiscal mess became clear.
This basic human response to seek safe-haven has played an equally important part as that of QE in keeping yields subdued.
Only in the last six months have we started to return to the 'normal' modus operandum, in which long term yields are the sum of compounded short rates and the risk premium, the latter being investors' judgement of future liquidity, credit, and fiscal and monetary policy uncertainty over the life of the bond.
Paradoxically, desperate safe-haven flight far outweighed those factors for US Treasuries, and collapsed the risk premium. We have now returned to a normal state of affairs, with the Eurozone crisis also contained, as we all belatedly came to appreciate that political will would easily overcome any economic maladies.
This has lead me to the scary conclusion that while the FOMC's pronouncements on 18th may prompt a temporary rally in US Treasuries, (especially as there is a 50 per cent probability that they will lower the employment threshold for rate rises from 6.5 per cent to 6 per cent), but that will be a great opportunity to sell bonds.
This is a bond bear market-and companies like Verizon are very wise indeed to lock in cheap borrowing. Growth is on the rise worldwide, (even rather anaemically in Europe), and I'm afraid the Fed won't have any room for hesitation driven by concerns over the effect of tapering on emerging markets, as was made abundantly clear by a couple of senior Fed officials at the Jackson Hole conference. No wonder; the Fed-haters in the Senate would have a field day if the FOMC seemed to be managing other countries' economies for them. (Of course, those Senators give no thought for the potential negative feedback effects that an EM crisis could have on the US).
Let's say the Fed doesn’t actually taper QE at all, that will send stock markets soaring and give business confidence another boost-quickly pushing yields higher anyway.

Ben Bernanke Photograph: Getty Images

Chairman of  Saxo Capital Markets Board

An Honours Graduate from Oxford University, Nick Beecroft has over 30 years of international trading experience within the financial industry, including senior Global Markets roles at Standard Chartered Bank, Deutsche Bank and Citibank. Nick was a member of the Bank of England's Foreign Exchange Joint Standing Committee.

More of his work can be found here.

How Jim Murphy's mistake cost Labour - and helped make Ruth Davidson

Scottish Labour's former leader's great mistake was to run away from Labour's Scottish referendum, not on it.

The strange revival of Conservative Scotland? Another poll from north of the border, this time from the Times and YouGov, shows the Tories experiencing a revival in Scotland, up to 28 per cent of the vote, enough to net seven extra seats from the SNP.

Adding to the Nationalists’ misery, according to the same poll, they would lose East Dunbartonshire to the Liberal Democrats, reducing their strength in the Commons to a still-formidable 47 seats.

It could be worse than the polls suggest, however. In the elections to the Scottish Parliament last year, parties which backed a No vote in the referendum did better in the first-past-the-post seats than the polls would have suggested – thanks to tactical voting by No voters, who backed whichever party had the best chance of beating the SNP.

The strategic insight of Ruth Davidson, the Conservative leader in Scotland, was to to recast her party as the loudest defender of the Union between Scotland and the rest of the United Kingdom. She has absorbed large chunks of that vote from the Liberal Democrats and Labour, but, paradoxically, at the Holyrood elections at least, the “Unionist coalition” she assembled helped those parties even though it cost the vote share.

The big thing to watch is not just where the parties of the Union make gains, but where they successfully form strong second-places against whoever the strongest pro-Union party is.

Davidson’s popularity and eye for a good photo opportunity – which came first is an interesting question – mean that the natural benefactor in most places will likely be the Tories.

But it could have been very different. The first politician to hit successfully upon the “last defender of the Union” routine was Ian Murray, the last Labour MP in Scotland, who squeezed both the  Liberal Democrat and Conservative vote in his seat of Edinburgh South.

His then-leader in Scotland, Jim Murphy, had a different idea. He fought the election in 2015 to the SNP’s left, with the slogan of “Whether you’re Yes, or No, the Tories have got to go”.  There were a couple of problems with that approach, as one  former staffer put it: “Firstly, the SNP weren’t going to put the Tories in, and everyone knew it. Secondly, no-one but us wanted to move on [from the referendum]”.

Then again under different leadership, this time under Kezia Dugdale, Scottish Labour once again fought a campaign explicitly to the left of the SNP, promising to increase taxation to blunt cuts devolved from Westminster, and an agnostic position on the referendum. Dugdale said she’d be open to voting to leave the United Kingdom if Britain left the European Union. Senior Scottish Labour figures flirted with the idea that the party might be neutral in a forthcoming election. Once again, the party tried to move on – but no-one else wanted to move on.

How different things might be if instead of running away from their referendum campaign, Jim Murphy had run towards it in 2015. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

0800 7318496