During the last weekend of August, a group of economists got together at a resort in the middle of nowhere and talked about the money supply.
Normally, this type of meeting would put people to sleep. But given the way the financial press covered it -- and how it always tends to write about this sort of thing -- one would think that Zeus came down from Olympus to discuss reordering the universe with Elvis and Mother Theresa.
The meeting was actually the Federal Reserve's annual summit in Jackson Hole, Wyo.
At the meeting, Fed Chair Janet Yellen, said that "in light of the continued solid performance of the labor market and our outlook for economic activity and inflation, I believe the case for an increase in the federal funds rate has strengthened in recent months."
What this means is that she thinks that there is a case for raising the fed funds rate this month. That rate is what the U.S. central bank charges to lend money to other U.S. banks, and it is set at a range of 0.25% to 0.50%.
Whatever the Fed does is closely followed by other central banks and investors worldwide. If the Fed decides to raise interest rates, a lot of other central banks will probably start doing the same thing.
This would result in savers earning higher rates and borrowers paying more interest on their loans. So, what the Fed does matters to financial markets everywhere.
One small rate increase wouldn't be earth-shaking. But several in a row would have a big impact on bond markets and savings account balances.
If weather forecasters held a similar annual meeting about the nation's future weather patterns, Yellen's comments would be similar to Al Roker stepping to the podium and saying, "I'm not sure when or how much but it's going to rain ... at some point ... that's what the current weather situation is telling us."
Then the media would make it front-page news.
There are three reasons not to get excited about the latest comments from or about the Fed.
1. The Fed will do what it wants when it feels like it. The Fed changes its mind pretty regularly.
In December, it talked of raising rates four times this year, but that only happened once, though they might be raised again this month. The Fed said in May that it would likely raise rates in June, but it didn't.
2. Interest rates will go up eventually. The big question is what will happen when rates start going up on a regular basis.
Cutting rates is one of the tools used by central banks to help troubled financial markets and economies. Lower rates are like a shot of adrenaline to the economy and markets.
But as shown in the graph, above, rates have been very low for nearly eight years, at least in Europe and the U.S.
And now, markets are likely addicted to the adrenaline that low rates and quantitative easing have been providing.
How will adrenaline-addicted markets react when the supply of cheap money is reduced? It could turn into a massive problem for the world's economy.
Plus, trillions of dollars of QE and negative rates have effectively broken the bond market, which is in uncharted territory. So, when rates start climbing, there will be some volatility in the bond market
3. Sometimes, it is best to just ignore the financial media. Especially toward the end of summer, television producers need something to fill air time, and analysts and commentators need something to talk about.
But investors should avoid all the short-term distractions, such as most of what is said about the Fed, and focus on the big picture. That is one reason why Warren E. Buffett doesn't have a way to follow stock quotes from his desk.
The Fed's decisions do matter. The U.S. jobs report was released last Friday, and the results were weaker than expected.
This has caused some to question whether the Fed will raise rates at its next meeting on Sept. 20 and 21. If it does raise rates, it will probably be a 0.25% hike to the 0.5% to 0.75% range.
In the weeks leading up to that meeting, expect markets to be volatile.
Don't expect a repeat of what happened in January. At that time, the Fed said that it wouldn't raise rates out of concern about global market conditions.
And global stock markets fell on the news. But any change in rates would cause a lot of uncertainty, and markets hate uncertainty, especially because they are addicted to cheap money and low rates.
Higher U.S. rates will also result in a stronger dollar because money will flow into the U.S. and the dollar because investors would be able to earn more interest there. This would cause other currencies to weaken a bit.
It could also cause commodity prices to suffer.
Commodities are priced in dollars. So when the dollar is stronger, countries that don't use the dollar have to pay more to buy the same amount of copper, iron or oil, causing demand to fall.
So prepare for a lot more talk about what the Fed is going to do in coming weeks and be ready to ignore most of it.