Investors have been unsure of how the Fed would handle the trade war. Recent minutes from the Fed showed no indication that the central bank was thinking of cutting rates even though the market expects it. However, the silence has finally been broken as Fed chairman Powell announced yesterday that the trade war is on the list of the Fed’s concerns and that the central bank would act to protect the economy from its fallout. In his own words, Powell said the Fed would “act as appropriate to sustain the expansion”.
FINSUM: We took this as a pretty strong affirmation that the Fed is watching the trade war situation closely and is ready to act. Markets liked it.
There has been a lot of speculation about whether there may be rate cuts this year. The Fed has been less than clear about this possibility, mostly indicating it just wants to stay put for the year. The Treasury market has been very vocal, however, with investors clearly indicating they expect rate cuts over the second half of the year. Now JP Morgan is weighing in, saying that the Fed is likely to cut rates twice by the end of the year, a prediction which precisely matches what markets are calling for. The ten-year Treasury yield fell below 2.1% recently.
FINSUM: We think the cut will come as a function of how the trade war plays out. Trump is certainly pushing the Fed’s hand, but we expect the central bank will remain “data dependent”.
JP Morgan thinks bonds are the best of a bad bunch. That is essentially what JP Morgan is saying about the asset class. The investment bank says that bonds are not in a bubble, though there are no good discounts either. JP Morgan, which is the world’s largest underwriter of bonds, says that despite the 100 bp dive in Treasury yields, bonds are not a bubble ready to burst. The bank thinks the Fed will stay on hold, not cut, until the end of 2020 given the increased pressure the trade war will put on the economy.
FINSUM: Despite the speed with which the bond market has seen yields fall, it is relatively hard to imagine them rising back to over 3% any time soon (even if China dumps its holdings). Thus, we generally agree with JP Morgan’s assessment.
The market shave been hoping, clinging, to the idea that the Fed will cut rates soon. Bond markets have all but assumed it with pricing, and even equities seem to favor the odds. However, the release of the most recent Fed minutes have all but put to bed those hopes. The notes clearly show that while the Fed is willing to leave rates where they are for some time, there is no appetite to cut.
FINSUM: One important caveat to these minutes is that the meeting was held just before the big blowup in US-China trade talks. At the time of the meeting, it looked like it would be smooth sailing to a deal.
There has been growing consternation about the threat of a major meltdown in corporate debt. The Fed, in particular, has been very troubled by the amount of corporate debt in the economy, which has led to speculation by Wall Street that there could be a blow up. Goldman Sachs has been more sanguine, saying debt levels look healthy. Now the Fed appears to be taking a more mild view as well. In a speech this week, Chairman Powell said that the comparison to pre-Crisis debt levels are not convincing. “Most importantly, the financial system today appears strong enough to handle potential business-sector losses, which was manifestly not the case a decade ago with subprime mortgages.
FINSUM: Debt levels seems high, but profits are margins are good to. The question is what happens when the economy turns south. We are especially concerned about the BBB market.