After opening up 0.41%, Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) is already trading down 0.38% an hour and a half after the opening bell. Excepting Wells Fargo & Co (NYSE:WFC), each of its Big Four peers is suffering the same fate, as are all three major indices — so far at least decisively spiking the market’s two-day rally.
Chalk up nearly everyone’s bad day to nervousness over Fed chairman Ben Bernanke’s looming speech to the markets, scheduled for later today.
The fate of the Bernanke-put
The Federal Open Market Committee is the Federal Reserve’s policy-setting body, which began its two-day meeting yesterday. Up for debate is the fate of quantitative easing, or QE: the Fed’s massive monthly bond-purchase program.
Bernanke has said he will begin tapering the purchases off as the economy improves, which it clearly has been since QE’s inception. Investors worry this economic recovery will falter if QE is tapered back.
Also on the minds of Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) investors in particular is the trial currently under way between the superbank, American International Group Inc (NYSE:AIG), The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation (NYSE:BK), BlackRock, Inc. (NYSE:BLK), PIMCO, and other big investors. Or should I say was under way. The case has actually been suspended mid-trial because of scheduling conflicts on the part of presiding judge Barbara Kapnick.
The case revolves around a previously agreed-upon settlement for $8.5 billion over bad mortgage-backed securities issued by its Countrywide Financial unit. If the settlement isn’t upheld, Bank of America Corp (NYSE:BAC) could be on the hook for tens of billions more.
Foolish bottom line
Analysts are mixed on which way they think Bernanke will go, but remember this: Even if he announces a rollback of QE, it’s going to be tapered. The money spigot won’t be instantly turned off.
And while the markets may react in knee-jerk fashion if he does announce the taper, chances are, once investors see that it’s going to be a slow and gradual process, they will likely calm down. QE has to come to an end sometime; the central bank can’t keep expanding its balance sheet by $85 billion per month forever. But I think the recovery has serious enough legs to stand at least partially on its own right now, and that’s all the Fed would be asking of it.
As for the suspended trial, there’s nothing investors can do about it but wait and see, no matter who’s side you’re on. Regarding today’s stock performance, that’s likely not even on investors’ minds. It’s all about the fate of the Bernanke-put right now.