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U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke (JASON REED/Reuters)
U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke (JASON REED/Reuters)

The QE3 effect: Stocks, gold, oil down Add to ...

The decline in the price of gold on Monday has sent bullion to its lowest level since Sept. 12, or the day before the Federal Reserve launched an aggressive round of stimulus, often referred to as QE3. On Monday afternoon, gold was down $16.50 (U.S.) an ounce, to $1,738 – and down 0.7 per cent since the Fed unveiled its policy.

Turns out, gold isn’t alone in its reaction: From major indexes to a variety of commodities, the past month has marked a retreat, raising questions about whether markets have already discounted Fed actions.

When QE3 was announced in the Fed’s scheduled statement nearly one month ago, markets had been clamouring for a response to what had then been a steady stream of disappointing economic news. Though prior rounds of Fed activity had not made a noticeable improvement in things like unemployment levels or economic growth, the general feeling was that stimulus was good for investments.

Ed Yardeni of Yardeni Research said in early September that investors had become “junkies for the Fed’s easing programs.”

Previous moves said it all: After the Fed launched its first two rounds of quantitative easing – or bond buying – the S&P 500 rose by double digits, partly because the benchmark index had been falling before the Fed stepped in. And after the Fed launched its so-called Operation Twist – selling short-term bonds and buying longer-term bonds – the reaction was similar.

This time, with stocks and commodities already up considerably when the Fed made its announcement, the reaction has been disappointing.

In terms of equity performance, the S&P 500 has fallen 1.5 per cent and Canada’s S&P/TSX composite index has fallen 1.3 per cent. Within the S&P 500, many of the economically sensitive areas have suffered the biggest declines: tech stocks have fallen more than 4 per cent, energy and materials stocks have fallen about 3 per cent each, consumer discretionary stocks have fallen 1.5 per cent and industrials have fallen 1.4 per cent.

As for commodities, crude oil has fallen 6.6 per cent. And for a broader commodity snapshot, the Reuters/Jefferies CRB index of 19 commodities has fallen 3.4 per cent.

One of the rare winners? The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury bond has fallen to 1.67 per cent from 1.76 per cent. As bond yields fall, prices rise.

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