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.

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A swimming pool and a bleeding toe put my medical competency in doubt

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Sometimes the search engine wins. 

The brutal heatwave affecting southern Europe this summer has become known among locals as “Lucifer”. Having just returned from Italy, I fully understand the nickname. An early excursion caused the beginnings of sunstroke, so we abandoned plans to explore the cultural heritage of the Amalfi region and strayed no further than five metres from the hotel pool for the rest of the week.

The children were delighted, particularly my 12-year-old stepdaughter, Gracie, who proceeded to spend hours at a time playing in the water. Towelling herself after one long session, she noticed something odd.

“What’s happened there?” she asked, holding her foot aloft in front of my face.

I inspected the proffered appendage: on the underside of her big toe was an oblong area of glistening red flesh that looked like a chunk of raw steak.

“Did you injure it?”

She shook her head. “It doesn’t hurt at all.”

I shrugged and said she must have grazed it. She wasn’t convinced, pointing out that she would remember if she had done that. She has great faith in plasters, though, and once it was dressed she forgot all about it. I dismissed it, too, assuming it was one of those things.

By the end of the next day, the pulp on the underside of all of her toes looked the same. As the doctor in the family, I felt under some pressure to come up with an explanation. I made up something about burns from the hot paving slabs around the pool. Gracie didn’t say as much, but her look suggested a dawning scepticism over my claims to hold a medical degree.

The next day, Gracie and her new-found holiday playmate, Eve, abruptly terminated a marathon piggy-in-the-middle session in the pool with Eve’s dad. “Our feet are bleeding,” they announced, somewhat incredulously. Sure enough, bright-red blood was flowing, apparently painlessly, from the bottoms of their big toes.

Doctors are used to contending with Google. Often, what patients discover on the internet causes them undue alarm, and our role is to provide context and reassurance. But not infrequently, people come across information that outstrips our knowledge. On my return from our room with fresh supplies of plasters, my wife looked up from her sun lounger with an air of quiet amusement.

“It’s called ‘pool toe’,” she said, handing me her iPhone. The page she had tracked down described the girls’ situation exactly: friction burns, most commonly seen in children, caused by repetitive hopping about on the abrasive floors of swimming pools. Doctors practising in hot countries must see it all the time. I doubt it presents often to British GPs.

I remained puzzled about the lack of pain. The injuries looked bad, but neither Gracie nor Eve was particularly bothered. Here the internet drew a blank, but I suspect it has to do with the “pruning” of our skin that we’re all familiar with after a soak in the bath. This only occurs over the pulps of our fingers and toes. It was once thought to be caused by water diffusing into skin cells, making them swell, but the truth is far more fascinating.

The wrinkling is an active process, triggered by immersion, in which the blood supply to the pulp regions is switched off, causing the skin there to shrink and pucker. This creates the biological equivalent of tyre treads on our fingers and toes and markedly improves our grip – of great evolutionary advantage when grasping slippery fish in a river, or if trying to maintain balance on slick wet rocks.

The flip side of this is much greater friction, leading to abrasion of the skin through repeated micro-trauma. And the lack of blood flow causes nerves to shut down, depriving us of the pain that would otherwise alert us to the ongoing tissue damage. An adaptation that helped our ancestors hunt in rivers proves considerably less use on a modern summer holiday.

I may not have seen much of the local heritage, but the trip to Italy taught me something new all the same. 

This article first appeared in the 17 August 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Trump goes nuclear