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Beware the Fed’s asset price ‘monsters’

Change is hard. Sometimes, talking about change is hard.

But for anxious investors, even talking about talking about changes to the Federal Reserve’s stimulus program proved difficult on Wednesday.

What happened: The minutes from the central bank’s April policy meeting revealed that several officials think the robust US economic recovery means the Fed should review its stimulus program at some point.

“A number of participants suggested that if the economy continued to make rapid progress toward the committee’s goals, it might be appropriate at some point in upcoming meetings to begin discussing a plan for adjusting the pace of asset purchases,” the minutes said.

The gentlest of warnings from the central bank helped send stocks to a third straight day of losses. The CNN Business Fear & Greed Index is now solidly in the “fear” zone, a major shift from a month ago when greed dominated.

Remember: Ultra low interest rates and massive bond purchases by the Fed have helped accelerate the recovery from the pandemic. But they have also spurred a huge stock market rally, plus spikes in real estate prices and other assets.

Now, investors are worried that accelerating inflation will force the central bank to pull back stimulus sooner than anticipated. Fed officials have largely waved off these fears, saying they expect price hikes to be fleeting.

“However, a couple of participants commented on the risks of inflation pressures building up to unwelcome levels before they become sufficiently evident to induce a policy reaction,” the meeting minutes stated.

Kit Juckes of Societe Generale said investors would be best served for now by paying attention to the Fed’s actions rather than its words.

“The [Federal Open Market Committee] members aren’t just talking instead of doing, they’re talking about when they should start talking properly about tapering their asset purchases,” he said in a research note on Thursday.

Juckes pointed out that the Bank of Canada has already started tapering its stimulus, and the Reserve Bank of Australia will decide whether to extend its measures in July. China’s central bank is already pulling back.

What’s different about the Fed? According to Juckes, the US central bank is treading carefully out of fear. “The Fed is terrified of the asset price monsters that its policies have given birth to,” he said.

What’s next: St. Louis Fed President James Bullard said during an interview on Wednesday that it would be Fed chair Jerome Powell’s call when to open the discussion on pulling back stimulus.

“I’m advocating that we get more solid evidence that the pandemic is really behind us, and is not going to have a ‘stinger tail’ to it that turns out to be a problem that extends for another six months or something or longer,” he said.

“You don’t want to start down a path of changing policy and then have to go back into emergency mode because the pandemic has gone in some direction that you didn’t anticipate,” added Bullard.

A painful reality check for bitcoin

Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies endured a vicious sell-off on Wednesday as China took more more steps to crack down on the digital coins.

Bitcoin has recovered some lost ground. But the king of cryptocurrencies is still trading below $40,000, roughly 20% lower than where it started the week.

Whether that matters depends on your perspective. Investors who bought into bitcoin six years ago are sitting on gains of more than 16,000%. If you only took the plunge six months ago, you’ve still more than doubled your money.

But for anyone hoping to use bitcoin as an actual currency, Wednesday’s crash shows the currency remains extremely volatile. That’s not an attribute typically desired in a currency. It’s also a reality check for big investors.

Institutional investors have had enough of cryptos for the moment, according to strategists at JPMorgan Chase.

“Institutional investors appear to be shifting away from bitcoin and back into traditional gold, reversing the trend of the previous two quarters,” they said in a research note.

Of course, we can’t discuss bitcoin without mentioning Elon Musk. In a tweet Wednesday, the Tesla CEO posted a diamond and praise hand emoji — a reference to the term “diamond hands” used by WallStreetBets traders — to indicate that the electric carmaker is holding onto its bitcoin position.

Counterpoint: Investors shouldn’t be taking cues from Musk.

“Do not pay attention to Elon Musk’s comments about anything in crypto. He knows virtually nothing about cryptocurrencies, that’s the worst thing,” William Quigley, managing director at crypto-focused investment fund Magnetic, said during CNN Business’ digital live show Markets Now.

Lipstick sales are up more than 80%

Face masks and lockdown orders have kept lips largely out of sight in the pandemic. That hurt lipstick sales last year.

But makeup sellers say the fate of the cosmetics staple is starting to turn around as more people get vaccinated and the pace of social interactions picks up, my CNN Business colleague Parija Kavilanz reports.

According to the latest figures from market research firm IRI, which tracks point of sale data at retailers, lipstick sales hit $34.2 million in the four weeks ending April 18, up more than 80% from the same period a year earlier. They still fell short of pre-pandemic levels of over $40 million.

Walmart told CNN Business in an email that lipstick is the top performer across all segments of cosmetics, and that lipstick sales were a standout in its latest quarter ending April 30.

The retailer said shoppers were showing a strong preference for longwear and smudge-proof lipsticks that don’t rub off as easily inside of a mask. More recently, Walmart said customers are grabbing bright colors like purples or blues, as well as trendy browns, in what it called an “opportunity for customers to once again express uniqueness.”

A change in mask guidance could also work in lipstick makers’ favor. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said last week that fully vaccinated people don’t have to wear masks or practice social distancing indoors or outdoors, except in certain settings such as schools.

Up next

Kohl’s, Ralph Lauren, Hormel Foods and BJ’s Wholesale report results before US markets open. Applied Materials and Ross Stores are up after the close.

Also today:

  • US jobless claims at 8:30 a.m. ET.

Coming tomorrow: Earnings from Deere and Foot Locker. Plus, existing home sales for April.

Article Topic Follows: Money

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