Reasons to be Optimistic

As expected, the Federal Reserve raised the target for its benchmark federal funds interest rate by 50 basis points at its mid-December meeting, to a range between 4.25% and 4.5%.

That was down from the 75 basis-point hikes at its four previous meetings, yet the market’s immediate reaction to the move was an immediate selloff.

Was that a classic “buy on the rumor, sell on the news” reaction — i.e., the Fed delivered exactly what Chair Powell had earlier indicated it would do?

Or was there some element of disappointment that the Fed, despite the more modest rate increase, included in its updated economic projections that most officials expect to raise rates by another 100 basis points, to about 5.1%, next year?

But was that really a surprise, given earlier comments from Powell and other Fed officials?

On a positive note, according to the Fed’s revised economic projections, it now expects inflation to fall to 3.1% next year before declining in 2024 to 2.5% and 2.1% in 2025, putting it at its long-term target.

In November, the year-on-year increase in the consumer price index fell to 7.1% from 7.7% a month earlier, down sharply from June’s 9.1% peak. So it looks like the Fed is optimistic about where inflation is headed, whether its rate-rising regimen deserves the credit or not.

It's also now calling for U.S. GDP to grow by 0.5% next year, unchanged from this year’s pace, before climbing to 1.6% in 2024.

By way of comparison, the economy rebounded at an annual rate of 2.9% in the third quarter following two straight quarters of negative growth.

The Fed projects the unemployment rate to jump to about 4.5% over the next three years, up from 3.7% currently, due to its rate increases. Continue reading "Reasons to be Optimistic"

Powell Starting to Change His Tune

Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell should have started the November Federal Reserve meeting press conference with one of the more widely used movie quotes, "there's a storm coming." Chairman Powell's comments after the Fed meeting were certainly the most hawkish we have heard from him.

First, the Federal Reserve Board unanimously voted for the 0.75% rate hike. That alone is a sign that all members of the Fed believe we still need to slow the economy to fight inflation.

During the press conference, Powell took this perhaps another step further when he was asked a question and responded that inflation hasn't been coming down as fast as the Fed had hoped.

Powell's answer about inflation not coming down as his team expected came after he indicated the likelihood of a soft landing was diminishing. Powell mentioned that November's 0.75% hike, the fourth hike of that amount in four consecutive meetings, was "fast pace," however, he also insisted that it was "appropriate" given our current situation, referring to high inflation.

Powell also stated the Fed has some ways to go with future rate hikes. He continued, "We may move to higher levels than we thought."

Another concerning statement came when Powell said, "the question of when to moderate the pace of increases is now much less important than the question of how high to raise rates and how long to keep monetary policy restrictive."

I had written in the past that I felt the Fed Chairman was "sugar coating" the inflation situation to help stabilize the economy and the market's reactions to his comments.

However, Jerome Powell's comments on November 2, 2022, were the first time he did not come across as soft or sugar-coating about what is happening with inflation and the economy. In several ways, the Federal Reserve Chairman is telling the world that inflation is enemy number one and that what the Fed has done up to this point is not working.

So, what does this all mean for the average investor? Continue reading "Powell Starting to Change His Tune"

Sugar-Coating the Likelihood of a Recession

Does anyone remember when then President Donald Trump told the American population that the Covid-19 lockdowns and spread of the virus that caused the pandemic would all be over by Easter? Or when referring to Covid-19, that it was “the flu”?

During the first few weeks of the pandemic, President Donald Trump downplayed the severity of the virus to not panic the American population. In hindsight, perhaps the early days, especially when the country was in lockdown, it would have been more beneficial to not sugar-coat the virus and the timeline of when the government would lift the lockdown restrictions.

Had President Donald Trump told people the virus would kill hundreds of thousands of people, perhaps we could have stopped the virus from spreading during the lockdowns.

If President Trump hadn’t given a timeline for the lockdowns and the pandemic seeing brighter days, perhaps the government wouldn’t have lost its creditability with so many Americans during the summer of 2020 and its continued response to the pandemic.

Our current situation with the Federal Reserve and its chairman Jerome Powell, is very reminiscent of the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Back in the winter and early spring, Powell told us that inflation was “transitory” and wouldn’t last. He even said current inflation wouldn’t need aggressive monetary policy changes to fall. Then, even when Powell began to raise interest rates, he told Americans that there was a high probability of a soft landing, referring to the idea that the Fed could bring down inflation slowly and gently.

Powell continued to tell us this summer that raising interest rates gradually and methodically would lower inflation but not put the economy in a recession.

Fast forward to just a week ago, and Powell tells us that the “chances of a soft landing are likely to diminish.” Inflation has hardly moved even though the Fed has raised interest rates five times, starting in March 2022. At that time, the Fed increased rates by 0.25%, 0.50% in May, then a 0.75% bump in June, July, and September.

Powell also said at the most recent Fed press conference following its announcement of the September rate hike that “we have to get inflation behind us. I wish there were a painless way to do that. There isn’t." Continue reading "Sugar-Coating the Likelihood of a Recession"

Now is the Time to Hedge Your Portfolio

A few weeks ago, I asked if you believed the current rally was here to stay. At that time, the market had been rallying since the middle of June. Some market participants were calling the June low 'the bottom.'

Time will tell if June was the bottom, but based on what has happened over the last two weeks of August, I am betting that we have not yet seen the bottom.

Let's review quickly what just occurred. The Federal Reserve's President, Jerome Powell, told the country that there would be "some pain" in the coming months. Powell also said that the Fed would "keep at it until the job is done," referring to getting inflation under control.

Powell didn't detail how severe the pain would be or how businesses and households would feel it. Still, I think it is safe to say that Powell acknowledges we are likely heading towards a recession.

The market's reaction to Powell's comments sent the S&P 500 down 9.2% since the August 16 high of 4,327. The NASDAQ is down 11%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average is off by 8.2% since August 16.

Not only is the NASDAQ down double digits, but the exchange-traded funds that track the major indexes, The SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY) and the Invesco NASDAQ QQQ ETF (QQQ), are both now trading below their 50-day averages. That is in addition to them already having given up their 200-day, 100-day, and 20-day moving averages.

Furthermore, economist after economists, jumped on the 'recession is imminent', bandwagon this past week. Most of these economists have even pointed out that the Federal Reserve has miscalculated the intense inflation we are experiencing.

They were referring to when the Fed told us back in the spring that the inflation we were experiencing at that time was "transitory." The Fed was wrong about that, and it is unlikely that the Fed members want to be wrong again by underestimating the persistence of current inflationary causes.

Due to their previous missteps, many believe the Fed will not take its foot off the gas quickly enough. This makes it unlikely the economy will experience a soft landing which we have been hearing about over the past few months.

And if you don't know the opposite of a 'soft landing' in economics, it's a recession. Continue reading "Now is the Time to Hedge Your Portfolio"

An Oil Stock to Ride Out the Looming Recession

At the moment, the oil market is much like the famous quote from the beginning of “A Tale of Two Cities.”

It is a tale of two markets: the futures market for oil (controlled by Wall Street) and the physical market, which reflects the real-world demand for oil. Both factor in many dynamics inputs, notably whether we’re actually heading into a recession.

Which Tale to Believe?

The price of oil dropped by about $15 a barrel in a few days in the futures market, thanks to recession worries. That pushed the global benchmark Brent crude oil price below $100 per barrel for the first time since April.

However, in the real world, there is no sign of a slowdown in demand for oil. In fact, it’s quite the opposite.

Premiums for the immediate delivery of oil are at record levels. For example, Nigerian Qua Iboe crude oil was offered at $11.50 a barrel above Brent, while North Sea Forties crude was bid at Brent-plus-$5.35—both all-time highs!

Here in the U.S., WTI-Midland and WTI at East Houston traded in June at a more than a $3 premium to U.S. crude futures, the highest in more than two years. And though both grades of oil have since edged off those highs, they are still trading more than 60% higher than at the start of June. Continue reading "An Oil Stock to Ride Out the Looming Recession"