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Federal Reserve Officials List Reasons for the 2018 Financial Market Meltdown

February 20, 2019

Federal Reserve officials turned into market analysts at Hindsight Capital LLC in the minutes of their January meeting.

Policy makers offered a laundry list of reasons why U.S. equities came under severe pressure at the end of 2018, nearly falling into a bear market.

Here’s what the Fed thinks caused the damage:

The Kitchen Sink: Everything Was Awful

“A variety of factors—including FOMC communications, weaker-than-expected data, trade policy uncertainties, the partial federal government shutdown, and concerns about the outlook for corporate earnings—were cited by market participants as contributing to a deterioration in risk sentiment early in the period.”

A Handful of Investors Were Very Worried About QT

“Some other investors reportedly held firmly to the belief that the runoff of the Federal Reserve’s securities holdings was a factor putting significant downward pressure on risky asset prices, and the investment decisions of these investors, particularly in thin market conditions around the year-end, might have had an outsized effect on market prices for a time.”

“Some investors might have interpreted previous communications as indicating that a very high threshold would have to be met before the Committee would be willing to adjust its balance sheet normalization plans.”

Fed Didn’t Get How Bad the Global Economy Was

“December FOMC communications were reportedly perceived by market participants as not fully appreciating the implications of tighter financial conditions and softening global data over recent months for the U.S. economic outlook. Subsequent communications from FOMC participants were interpreted as suggesting that the FOMC would be patient in assessing the implications of recent economic and financial developments.”

Year-End Liquidity Conditions Were Horrific

“The increase in volatility in financial markets in December was viewed as substantial and as likely exacerbated by thin year-end liquidity, among other factors.”

“A couple of participants highlighted the role that decreased liquidity at the end of the year appeared to play in exacerbating changes in financial market conditions. They emphasized the need to monitor financial market structures or practices that may contribute to strained liquidity conditions.”

And It Could Have Been Worse

“A couple of participants noted that the strain in financial markets might have persisted or spread if it had occurred during a period of less favorable macroeconomic conditions.”