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Fed takes center stage; pasta in pink sauce

Tuesday, 17 Sep 2013 | 12:05 PM ET
Janet Yellen and Larry Summers
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Janet Yellen and Larry Summers

Editor's Note: Combining his passions for the markets, humor and food, "What's cookin' with Kenny Polcari" is a blog published twice weekly on CNBC.com. With more than 30 years of experience on Wall Street, Polcari provides insight and analysis on the markets, as well as a recipe du jour. Buon appetito!

The saga known as the Federal Open Market Committee meeting begins today and runs through tomorrow. All the speculation for the past five months that this is the meeting that so many assume will be the beginning of the end for quantitative easing—or will it?

Monday's stock market action would indicate otherwise. With the withdrawal of former Treasury Secretary Larry Summers as a candidate for chairman of the Federal Reserve, investors around the world are betting that if President Barack Obama nominates Fed Vice Chair Janet Yellen, her monetary policy will remain more accommodative.

(Read more: Is Yellen a sure thing at Fed? Maybe...maybe not)

After all, stocks spiked on news that Summers is no longer vying to lead the Fed, leading Wall Street to wonder whether this was a "Summers dropout rally" or a "Yellen all in rally"? Was it real buying or the shorts that ran for cover, as they had been betting against this market for a bit?

I would suggest it was both—new money forcing the shorts to pay higher and higher prices. The message: Do not fight the Fed!

All this fawning over Yellen has likely caused her to blush—you know, turning pink, which makes for the perfect dish: pasta and pink sauce (but more on that later).

Stocks continued to rally Tuesday, as the Fed statement will be keenly watched amid expectations of a $10 billion reduction in Treasury purchases, leaving mortgage purchases at current levels to continue to support housing. Uncle Benny is trying to convince the markets that any tapering does not equate to tightening of credit.

Hmmm. That is not the message being heard by the market. Any talk of a reduction in purchases has caused bonds to come under pressure and yields to go higher. This is the dilemma that the Fed now faces. The jump in the long end of the curve has already affected housing and, as we found out last week, is causing thousands of layoffs at Bank of America, Wells Fargo and JPMorgan Chase.

That's exactly the opposite of what the Fed intended. Higher borrowing costs caused new-home sales to plummet by 13 percent in July while mortgage applications continue to fall, forcing some analysts and strategists to cut back on the amount of tapering ($20 billion to $10 billion) that they had anticipated, while others do not expect any move at all.

(Read more: Market sees $15 billion Fed taper soon: CNBC survey)

Last week we learned that retail sales slowed considerably in August, and early forecasts for the Christmas shopping season are already weak. Many expect it to be the worst since 2009, causing retailers to offer deep discounts early in the season, which by all accounts has already begun. Some will say that it is way too early to make such a prediction, but it is not just pie in the sky.

Just consider the weak retail sales report last week, anemic back-to-school results, Walmart Stores and Macy's warning on forward guidance, KMart already promoting its layaway service and Toys "R" Us offering 20 percent off to shoppers who visit (and buy) before Sept. 21.

The kicker—those Jos. A. Bank commercials that advertise a promotion something along the lines of buy one suit, get four free. So do they count it as one sale, or five sales for reporting purposes? I'm just sayin' ...

The euphoria from Monday's market has faded a bit. Global markets giving back some of the gains as investors realize that the picture remains cloudy while they await news from the Fed. Expectations around the world are for a reduction in purchases. I still don't see how they will justify it based on the metrics outlined by Bernanke that are nowhere near being met, but if they talk about it enough, the hope is that markets will get used to the idea.

The concern will be how he positions it. Will he leave the door open to 'turn the spigot' on again in the event of a substantial slowing? If he does, would it undermine the Fed's credibility? Will it send the message to investors that "it ain't all coming up roses?"

(Read more: 'Out of control' Fed should be abolished: McNealy)

As much as the market moved higher over the past two weeks, you can feel the edge of nervousness—and yet no one wants to be the first one out the door. The Dow and S&P are now testing resistance at the all-time highs, but they also have become a bit overextended relative to their 200-day moving average and with a debt ceiling confrontation and Fed action on the horizon.

A correction back to 1,625 not only would be healthy but would set us up for the next move higher as investors adjust their long-term outlook. And a Yellen appointment will only serve to give investors the comfort level they need.


Pasta with pink sauce
Source: Kenny Polcari
Pasta with pink sauce

And now from the kitchen of Kenny Polcari, here's his recipe of the day!

Pasta in pink sauce

With Yellen largely considered the front-runner to lead the Fed, the attention is likely making her blush, and the color pink always reminds me of pasta in pink sauce. Just wait till you taste it! This is one of those basic recipes that you can use on any type of pasta. It is easy to make and store.

  • Butter
  • Olive oil
  • Spanish onions
  • Chopped carrots
  • Chopped celery
  • Kitchen-ready crushed tomatoes (not puree)
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Fresh grated parmigiana cheese

Begin by melting one stick of butter with a bit of olive oil. Add the chopped onions, celery and carrots. Cover and turn heat to medium so as not burn the butter and the veggies. Keep covered for about 20 minutes so that they soften. Check the carrots to see if they are soft to the touch. That's when you will know you are ready for the next step.

Puree the veggies in a food processor and return to the pot. Add two 28-ounce cans of kitchen-ready crushed (not puree) tomatoes. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer, season with salt and pepper and cover. Stir occasionally for 20 minutes. Turn heat off.

Now bring a pot of salted water to a boil and choose a pasta: spaghetti, linguine, fusilli, mostaccioli, penne, rigatoni … (you get the picture). Add pasta to boiling water and cook for eight to 10 minutes. You want it al dente, not mush. Melt another stick of butter and put aside.

While the pasta is cooking, fold two cups of room temperature heavy cream into the tomato sauce. The more you add, the pinker it gets, so you choose how pink you want it to be. Next, add two handfuls of grated parmigiana and stir to mix well. Strain pasta, always reserving a mugful of the pasta water to keep moist. Return the pasta to the pot. Add the melted butter and coat well. If you want to make it more moist, add some of the pasta water and then three ladles of sauce, mix well and serve. Always top off each bowl with a bit more of the sauce. Keep extra grated cheese on the table for your guests.

—By Kenny Polcari, director of NYSE floor operations, O'Neil Securities and CNBC contributor, often appearing on "Power Lunch." The author is not compensated by CNBC for this or any other written materials found on CNBC.com.

About Kenny: Kenny has more than 30 years of experience on Wall Street. Currently director of NYSE floor operations on behalf of O'Neil Securities, he has also worked for Icap and Salomon Brothers. You can follow Kenny on Twitter @kennypolcari and visit him at kennypolcari.com.

Disclosure: The market commentary is the opinion of the author and is based on decades of industry and market experience; however no guarantee is made or implied with respect to these opinions. This commentary is not nor is it intended to be relied upon as authoritative or taken in substitution for the exercise of judgment. The comments noted herein should not be construed as an offer to sell or the solicitation of an offer to buy or sell any financial product, or an official statement or endorsement of O'Neil Securities or its affiliates.

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