Investors, take a deep breath, everything about the rate outlook has changed in the last 36 hours. For the first quarter of this year, investors thought we were on an inevitable course for rate cuts as the Fed appeared highly dovish. Then the last two days happened. First, Fed chief Powell delivered a much more hawkish speech than expected, saying that the factors that were holding inflation down were just “transitory”. Then, jobs data this morning blew everyone away with 263,000 jobs created in April.
FINSUM: We think these two factors are a big deal. It is very far from clear the Fed is going to cut (we think the risks are now skewed toward a hike). What makes this worrying is that a lot of the rally this year has been predicated on a dovish Fed.
Something very odd is going on in the minds of investors. Data on the economy continues to come out very strongly, with Q1 growth at 3.2%, and the market are nothing short of astonishing, up 25% since its December low. But at the same time, many investors and analysts think the Fed will cut rates. The reason why is disinflation, or the fact that the inflation number refuses to rise to the Fed’s target. Looking more broadly, you also have weakening in China and a slowdown in Europe, so there are macro headwinds that could wound the US. Analysts tend to fall in one camp or the other on hikes, with some, like Scott Minerd of Guggenheim, calling the idea “plainly wrong”.
FINSUM: It is very hard to predict what the Fed will do because their u-turn earlier this year caught everyone by surprise. Our bet is that if the current data holds steady, there won’t be any hikes.
Stocks are once again nearing all-time highs, which is understandably making investors nervous about a repeat of the fourth quarter occurring. While that fear is healthy, the reality is that the underlying conditions of the market are a world different now. Not only are valuations lower, but the economy is looking robust, and perhaps most importantly of all, the Fed has let off the gas pedal with hikes, which puts recession risk much lower. All of these factors seem to conspire to make a perfect environment for stock price appreciation.
FINSUM: Anyone who reads FINSUM knows we lean towards bearish news, but the truth is that our better judgment is telling us that now is probably a time to be optimistic, as the trifecta of reasonable valuations, a solid/strong economy, and a dovish Fed, are in place.
One of the core tenants of US central banking is being shunned by Jay Powell’s Fed. Former central bank leadership had always taken the approach that tight labor markets posed a serious threat for higher inflation. However, Powell is stepping away from that view. Labor markets remain tight, with unemployment very low and strong job creation consistent. Yet, the Fed has completely stepped off the gas pedal on rate hikes, a position that runs counter to previous approaches.
FINSUM: At least in this cycle, the relationship between labor markets and inflation seems to be thoroughly broken. The reality is that no one can give a great answer as to why, but Powell’s policy nonetheless sticks to the idea that the link is severed.
Investors may be worried about a big fall in stock prices, but that is looking less likely than the opposite, at least according to BlackRock. The asset manager’s CEO, Larry Fink, said yesterday that records amount of cash may suddenly flow into the market, driving prices sharply higher. He points out that despite the good year in stocks so far, not a lot of money has been flowing into equities. Fink said dovishness by the Fed has created a shortage of” good assets”, which puts the market further at risk of a melt up.
FINSUM: A melt up could certainly happen, but we wonder what the catalyst would be. Maybe a solid trade deal with China?