BREAKINGVIEWS-Market bloodletting may be more 2003 than 1994

Thu Jun 27, 2013 2:01am IST

(The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.)

By Agnes T. Crane

NEW YORK, June 26 (Reuters Breakingviews) - The bloodletting in financial markets may be more 2003 than 1994. Bankers are smart to ask if the recent jump in rates could cause a replay of bond pain two decades ago. But 2003 may be a better comparison. Markets threw a hissy fit when the Fed signaled easy money would end. But it didn't last long. More importantly, nothing big blew up.

The missing body count may be why many don't remember 2003. But the similarities between now and then are hard to ignore. The Federal Reserve had been on a mission to get the economy back on track. It had cut short-term rates and Ben Bernanke, a mere Fed governor, had put bond buying on the table as a means to bolster the economy, if needed. But in June, the Fed cut rates by a smaller than expected amount, signaling that money wasn't likely to get much easier.

Then, like now, investors had a tantrum. The benchmark 10-year Treasury yield jumped more than 100 basis points in six weeks, credit spreads widened and overseas markets quaked.

Investors pulled more than $10 billion out of U.S. bond mutual funds in just five weeks, according to Lipper. That equated to 1.4 percent of fund assets, more than the 0.9 percent of outflows over the three weeks ending June 19 this year. But investors soon adjusted and markets settled down. The 10-year yield even eventually fell.

Back to 2013, rates may still rise further, including short-term rates which have been at or near zero in Japan and the United States for some time. And the magnitude and duration of the developed world's extraordinary monetary policy, which has helped add $10 trillion to central bank balance sheets in the past six years, according to the Bank for International Settlements, has distorted asset prices. These may swing too far the other way before finding more normal levels.

By putting an expiration date on quantitative easing, Bernanke has essentially hit the reset button on the global financial system. It may yet get worse. But the events of 2003 should at least give some hope that markets can adjust without calamitous losses.

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CONTEXT NEWS

- Comparison of 10-year Treasury yields in 2003 and 2013: link.reuters.com/xyt29t

- BIS report from Sept. 2003: link.reuters.com/pyt29t

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(Editing by Antony Currie and Martin Langfield)

((agnes.crane@thomsonreuters.com)(Reuters messaging agnes.crane.thomsonreuters.com@reuters.net)) Keywords: BREAKINGVIEWS MARKETS/2003

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