Powell Wimps Out

Pretty much as expected, the Federal Reserve last week said that, in the face of rising inflation and a booming economy and job market, it would further reduce its purchases of Treasury and mortgage-backed securities and raise interest rates.

But not yet.

Beginning in January, the Fed said it will be buying $60 billion in bonds a month, which is down 50% from the original schedule of $120 billion a month and its recently reduced plan of $90 billion, announced only a month ago. Which means the program will end next March, as opposed to the original termination date of June, at which time the Fed expects to start raising interest rates unless something happens in the meantime.

The Fed is projecting three 25 basis-point increases in its federal funds rate next year, followed by three more in 2023 and two more in 2024. That would put the fed funds rate in a range of 1.4% to 1.9% at the end of 2023, up from a range of 0.4% to 1.1% in its previous projection in September. The current rate, of course, is 0.1%, or near zero. Continue reading "Powell Wimps Out"

The Battle Against Inflation Begins

There shouldn’t be too many surprises coming out of this week’s Federal Reserve monetary policy meeting. The newly hawkish Fed is likely to formally announce its intention to accelerate the tapering of its asset purchases, as Fed chair Jerome Powell told Congress recently, echoed by other Fed officials so that the program ends sometime around March of next year, rather than several months later, in order to ward off the inflation that Powell now concedes isn’t transitory.

The bigger question is, will the Fed actually be successful in putting the inflation genie back in the bottle? After trying unsuccessfully for more than 12 years to lift inflation past its 2% target, why should we now believe that the Fed suddenly has the smarts and the oft-mentioned “tools” to rein in inflation that is now at its highest level in several decades?

The data-driven Fed has more than enough justification to expedite the taper, which would then lead the Fed to start raising interest rates off zero soon after, rather than waiting until sometime at the end of next year or even 2023.

Inflation

On Friday, the government announced that the year-on-year rise in the consumer price index jumped to 6.8% in November, up from 6.2% the prior month and the fastest pace in nearly 40 years. It was also the sixth straight month that it topped 5%, adding further evidence that the rise in inflation this year is anything but temporary. The YOY rise in the core index, which excludes food and energy prices, rose 4.9%, up from October’s 4.6% pace and the steepest increase since 1991.

Does that sound transitory to you? Continue reading "The Battle Against Inflation Begins"

Ignorance Is Bliss

Are the financial markets not paying attention? Or is that a good thing?

I keep asking myself those questions while I watch the major U.S. stock market indexes soar to new heights on a regular basis, while bond prices retreat – and yields rise – after hitting crisis levels early in the year.

The markets are saying: everything is just fine. The economy is humming along, consumers are spending, everyone who wants one can get a job, but just in case, the Federal Reserve is keeping interest rates low and monetary policy accommodative. How can things possibly get any better?

But are we getting a little too comfortable?

Stock prices are rising, and bond prices are falling even as the main Democrat presidential hopefuls try to top one another with the most profligate government giveaways they can think up – Medicare for All, free college tuition, student loan forgiveness, free health care for illegal aliens, reparations for slavery, you name it – while their peers in the House are trying desperately to drive President Trump from the White House, so they don’t have to face him on Election Day next year.

To say that there is a huge disconnect between the political world and the financial world is a huge understatement.

At some point, will investors look over this depressing – and rather scary – landscape and take their chips off the table? Or do they really believe that all of this silliness will eventually blow over and Trump – whom the financial markets seem to like, or at least are comfortable with – will arise victorious after the impeachment witch hunt plays itself out and the current field of Democrat presidential wannabes thins out? Continue reading "Ignorance Is Bliss"

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"