As Tom Petty often sang, “The waiting is the hardest part.”
Whether it’s waiting for college acceptance letters, medical test results, employment offers, or Federal Reserve monetary policy changes, waiting can produce a lot of anxiety. A 2012 research paper written by Associate Professor Kate Sweeney and Graduate Fellow Sara Andrews of the University of California, Riverside, explained it like this:
“…Although waiting for inevitable events such as the arrival of a bus or one’s turn in line may be irritating…the combination of uncertainty about the outcome and waiting for that outcome can be particularly excruciating. In fact, waiting may be more anxiety provoking than actually facing the worst case scenario…”
That may go a ways toward explaining why markets didn’t rally when the Federal Reserve decided to leave rates unchanged last week. The Federal Open Market Committee’s statement indicated they were concerned, “Recent global economic and financial developments may restrain economic activity somewhat and are likely to put further downward pressure on inflation in the near term.”
On the face of it, continued low rates should have been good news for assets like stocks, according to Barron’s. However, any positive aspects to the news were mitigated by the fact everyone expects the Fed to begin raising rates soon. Investors are waiting for it to happen, and they’re uncertain how economies and markets will react when it does.
Heightened anxiety may be one of the reasons investors responded the way they did last week. On Friday, after mulling the Fed’s decision, national stock market indices around the world – in the United States, England, Germany, France, and Japan – fell significantly, according to Yahoo! Finance.
Now, we’re back to waiting.
If anxiety remains high, markets may be volatile.