Financials: The Delicate Balance of Rates and Yield Curve

The financial cohort is in a difficult space as the broader economic backdrop continues to dictate whether these stocks can appreciate higher. A delicate balance between interest rates, Federal Reserve commentary, yield curve inversion, trade war, and concerns over a potential recession in late 2019 or early 2020 must be attained. A disruption in this complex web can lead to the financials breaking down as witnessed in Q4 2018 and in May of 2019. In Q4 2018 rates were increased by the Federal Reserve and sent the financials in a downward tailspin. In May 2019, a trifecta of a yield curve inversion, trade war concerns, and increased chatter about a potential recession on the horizon again sent the cohort lower. The broader market appreciated markedly in June, and the bank stocks participated in the rally. Coupled with renewed record share buybacks and increased dividend payouts stemming from successful stress tests, banks elevated higher on the news. Now, the market is anticipating that the Federal Reserve will cut rates at its next meeting, which may serve as another catalyst to propel some bank stocks to new 52-week highs.

The Q4 2018 Federal Reserve and Jerome Powell

The market-wide sell-off in the fourth quarter of 2018 was largely induced by the Federal Reserve and its alleged commitment to sequential interest rate increases into 2019. This was largely viewed as reckless and misguided while turning a blind eye to broader economic data-driven decision making about further interest rate hikes. The stock indices responded to the sequential interest rate hike stance with overwhelming negative sentiment, logging double-digit declines across the broader markets. Many market observers were questioning the Federal Reserve’s aggressive stance as companies issued weakness in ancillary economic metrics (slowing global growth, strong U.S. dollar, trade war, government shutdown, weak housing numbers, retail weakness, auto sluggishness, and oil decline) as an indication that cracks in the economic cycle were materializing. The strong labor market and record low unemployment served as a basis to rationalize increasing rates to tame inflation; however, these aforementioned economic headwinds appeared to cause the Federal Reserve to pivot in its aggressive stance. As Chairman Jerome Powell began to issue a softer stance on future interest rate hikes, January saw very healthy stock market gains after being decimated for months prior. On January 30th, Jerome Powell issued language that the markets were craving to levitate higher as he left interest rates unchanged and exercised caution and patience as a path forward. Using data-driven decision making as a path forward was cheered by market participants as the broader indices popped for healthy gains on top of the already robust gains throughout January. Continue reading "Financials: The Delicate Balance of Rates and Yield Curve"

Where Do We Go From Here?

As expected, the Federal Reserve left interest rates unchanged at last week’s post-Election Day monetary policy meeting, while signaling another 25-basis point increase in the federal funds rate at its December 18-19 get-together.

But the results of last week’s elections, which returned control of the House to the Democrats, may put future rate increases next year in doubt. That bodes well for long-term Treasury bond prices – i.e., yields may have peaked.

As we know, Maxine Waters, D-California, is now the likely next chairman of the House Financial Services Committee. To put it mildly, she doesn’t like banks. Her first order of business, no doubt, is to impeach President Trump, as she’s said countless times. But a more realistic second goal will be to roll back all or most of the recent bank regulatory measures made so far by the Trump Administration, which, of course, rolled back much of the regulatory measures passed under the previous administration, mainly through the Dodd-Frank financial reform law.

If she’s successful, that will reduce the mammoth profits the banks have been making the past several years, which were boosted further by the Republicans’ tax reform law. That sharply reduced corporate income tax rates, not just for banks but all companies, although the banks seem to be the biggest beneficiaries. No doubt Waters and her Democrat colleagues have that in their gunsights also.

But that won’t be the end of it. Continue reading "Where Do We Go From Here?"

Onward And Upward

Apparently, the bond market just got the email that the U.S. economy is smoking and that interest rates are going up.

The yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note jumped 17 basis points last week to close at 3.23%, its highest level since March 2011. The yield on the 30-year bond, the longest maturity in the government portfolio, closed at 3.41%, up an even 20 bps.

The pertinent questions are, what took so long to get there, and where are yields headed next?

Analysts and traders pointed to the Institute for Supply Management’s nonmanufacturing index, which rose another three points in September to a new record high of 61.6. The group’s manufacturing barometer, which covers a smaller slice of the economy, fell 1.5 points to 59.8, but that was coming off August’s 14-year high.

Bond yields jumped further after the ADP national employment report showed private payrolls growing by 67,000 in September to 230,000, about 50,000 more than forecast. It turns out the ADP report didn’t precursor the Labor Department’s September employment report, but it was still pretty strong. Nonfarm payrolls grew weaker than expected 134,000, less than half of August’s total of 270,000, but that number was upwardly revised sharply from the original count of 201,000, while the July total was also raised to 165,000. The relatively low September figure was blamed not on a weakening economy but on the fact that employers are having trouble finding workers. Meanwhile, the unemployment rate fell to 3.7% from 3.9%, the lowest rate since December 1969.

Indeed, last week’s jobs report only confirmed Continue reading "Onward And Upward"

Don't Buy The Low Inflation Story

Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell sent investors home happy for the weekend last Friday when he outlined a fairly balanced plan of interest rate increases designed to fight inflation while avoiding throwing the economy off track. Nevertheless, some economists at the Fed itself appear to believe that the central bank may not be taking the threat of inflation seriously enough.

In his prepared remarks for his speech at the Kansas City Fed’s annual policy symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, Friday, Powell indicated that he’s not overly worried about rising inflation, or at least not enough to be more aggressive about raising rates to avoid piercing a hole in the economic balloon just as it’s starting to expand.

“While inflation has recently moved up near 2%, we have seen no clear sign of an acceleration above 2%, and there does not seem to be an elevated risk of overheating,” the Fed chair said. Moreover, he said the Fed has to balance “moving too fast and needlessly shortening the expansion, versus moving too slowly and risking a destabilizing overheating. I see the current path of gradually raising interest rates as the approach to taking seriously both of these risks.”

That was enough to push the S&P 500 to its first record close since January 26 and the yield on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note to 2.81%, which is down about 20 basis points from its recent peak of 3.00% at the beginning of this month. Continue reading "Don't Buy The Low Inflation Story"