Fed Chair Jerome Powell told Congress on Wednesday that he supports a quarter-percent increase in the Fed’s benchmark short-term interest rate when the Fed meets in less than two weeks.
Powell did open the door to a bigger hike, like the half-percent increase called for by most of his colleagues, but only if inflation doesn’t noticeably decline this year—as the Fed expects it to.
Most other Fed officials have vocally supported a 25-basis point rise.
Morale among American consumers —I prefer "people"— worsened earlier this month by generation-high inflation and a major war in eastern Europe.
The latest University of Michigan survey showed overall consumer sentiment falling in March for the fifth time in the last six months to an almost 11-year low.
These days, on top of a dreadful and frustrating two-year Covid malaise, everyday Americans are asking, "Why does anything matter?"
The Michigan numbers show the public mood souring over inflation worries have totally surpassed other indicators that show an otherwise strong (albeit volatile) economy.
The mood also bodes particularly ill for members of Congress and state houses hoping not to be, well, unelected.
Tightening by the mightily bloated Federal Reserve is off and running.
The Fed’s Open Market Committee kept its word the other day, with the first of what’s expected to be 6 or 7 quarter-of-a-percentage point interest rate increases by the end of the year to put inflation in its place.
Today, Fed Governor Christopher Waller warned that the Fed may need to enact one or more 50 basis point hikes in 2021.
Though he voted this week for just 25 basis point because of economic uncertainty over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Waller said he thinks the Fed may need to be more aggressive soon.
“I really favor front-loading our rate hikes, that we need to do more withdrawal of accommodation now if we want to have an impact on inflation later this year and next year.”
“The way to front-load it is to pull some rate hikes forward, which would imply 50 basis points at one or multiple meetings in the near future.”
In addition to the rate hikes, Waller said he thinks the Fed needs to start reducing its holdings of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities sooner than later.
The economy doesn’t want for problems—there are plenty of them, both at home and stemming from rising geopolitical volatility in eastern Europe.
But as Neil Irwin writes, wherever the movers and shakers of the Federal Reserve look right now, “they're seeing flashing green lights that the world wants them to get moving on raising interest rates.”
Yes, the Fed acts independently based on its best analysis of economic data—in theory anyway.
But other factors shape the tone and outcomes of internal debates, too—like discussions by outside economic thinkers and financial market reactions to potential and actual Fed moves.
Right now, Irwin believes those reactions are almost uniformly pointing toward more aggressive action to try to rein in high inflation.
In fact, Fed future traders say another rate hike by the Fed’s May meeting is a done deal—38.4% see a hike of 50-75 basis points (0.5%-0.75%), while 61.6% see a hike of 75-100 basis points (0.75%-1.0%)
Even though the Fed has started hiking interest rates to rein in inflation running at a 4-decade high, consumers and investors think price rises will be tough to slow.
A new reading of consumer sentiment on Friday from the University of Michigan confirms that Americans’ inflation expectations remain at their highest level since 1981—and continue to grow.
The survey’s chief economist Richard Curtin observed that inflation is the chief culprit in consumers’ rising pessimism, with expectations of a 5.4% rise for the year ahead.
The Fed’s favorite inflation metric—the one that has Jay Powell mostly smiling during his REM dreams—showed mounting price pressures in February, as the PCE continued lrising to its highest annualized level since 1983.
Including gas and groceries (broken out by the government ostensibly because of their higher volatility), the headline Personal Consumption Expenditures index (the source of Powell’s nocturnal smiles) jumped 6.4% year over year.
Excluding food and energy prices, the so-called “core” PCE increased 5.4% from the same period in 2021.
By the way, the only reason I continue to mention the core PCE—or the core CPI for that matter—is because some readers like to know what these government-reported, nuanced numbers are doing.
So, if they’re good enough for the Fed, they're good enough for me (yes, my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek).
Neil Irwin asks: “When does a report showing a booming job market cause recession alarm bells to start clanging?”
His answer: “When exceptional jobs growth leads bond investors to bet that the Fed will raise rates so aggressively to quash inflation that it will be forced to reverse course later.” That's what happened on Friday.
When the bond yield curve inverts, as it did Friday, it usually means a recession isn’t too far behind.
And although that's being a tad presumptuous at this point, it's clear the Fed is walking a narrowing tightrope.
The Labor Department’s March employment data was strong again, with 431,000 jobs added, positive revisions to January and February numbers and a slightly falling unemployment rate.
More Americans are rejoining the labor market, and wages are showing steady growth.
Just two weeks earlier, Fed chair Jerome Powell said that he sees a "very, very tight labor market, tight to an unhealthy level."
The new numbers, however, suggest it’s becoming even more so, especially around the government’s headline unemployment rate.
That means the jobs numbers amount to full speed ahead for more aggressive Fed tightening, including what looks likely to be the first half-percentage point rate hike in 22 years at the early May policy meeting.
That's why the jobs numbers caused an 8% jump in 2-year Treasury yields, to 2.46% from 2.28% heading into last weekend. Longer-term yields rose by less, with the 10-year ending the day at 2.38%.
When long-term rates are lower than their short-term counterparts, that's called an inversion or an inverted yield curve, to be more precise.
It’s like bond investors are betting that the Fed will end up reversing those near-term rate hikes down the road (i.e., lowering them…again), presumably because of a weakening economy.
The CPI index, it vividly shows how the value of the dollar has steadily dwindled over the last ten years.
As Bloomberg News' Joe Wiesenthal tells us, straightening this line — or at least slowing its downward spiral — is the Fed’s real goal.
Although the U.S. Dollar Index has been inching higher and higher — over the past year, it's risen almost 11%, from 91.05 to its closing today at 100.8 — it's actually been weakening at the fastest pace since the 1980s.
The other day I said that there’s not going to be any Fed rate hike and then they’re done. No “one and done” sort of thing. I also explained why I think that they’re going to drive down demand for things, by making it harder to borrow money.
Now, I see a LOT of the so called market genius people saying that the Feds will hike into a recession, then have to stop and reverse course and start a new round of cuts and increase their QE. I get it. I really do. It’s been the norm for years…decades actually.
Last fall, aerial drone photos showed dozens of huge, multi-colored container ships backed up outside the Port of LA.
Even then, it looked like inflation was going to be with us for longer than the Fed and many others were predicting at the time.
It’s simply transitory – temporary – they insisted. Turns out, they were wrong, by a long shot.
Inflation, as measured by the Fed’s preferred, if somewhat mythical, metric – the Core Personal Consumption Expenditures Index (i.e., excluding food and energy) – has steadily risen since the pandemic was declared in March 2020.
The core PCE consistently hovered at or below the Fed’s 2% target from late 2008 until the 1st quarter of 2021.
In February 2020, just before the pandemic was declared in the U.S., the core PCE was roughly 1.8%.
Since then, it’s risen every quarter, from its low of 1.0% in Q2 2020 to 5.2% at the end of March 2022 – more than double the Fed’s target.
Of course, the broader core Consumer Price Index (CPI-U) rose an even higher 6.5% in March (8.4% when you include food and energy prices).
Friday’s latest government jobs report shows two ongoing trends:
First, with employers adding 428,000 in April, the economic rebound from the brutal pandemic seems to be holding together.
And second, as shown in the chart above, the level of the job rebound since the early days of the pandemic continues to depend on what industry you work in.
On the one hand, April’s seasonally adjusted figures are virtually the same as March’s, according to the Labor Department, with the growth in jobs broad-based across every major industry.
As Emily Peck teases, they're b-a-a-c-c-k. ARMs, that is.
Adjustable-rate mortgages, which are initially issued with a lower rate than, say, the 30-year fixed rate and jumps up after a certain time period (usually 1, 3 or 5 years), made up about 11% of all mortgage applications last week.
That’s the highest level since the 2008 Great Recession, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.
It’s another way the Federal Reserve’s interest rate hikes are affecting markets and consumer behavior.
Until recently, 30-year fixed mortgage rates were super low. As of the end of last year, they were hovering just above 3.0%. During the pandemic, they’ve gotten as low as 2.77% last August.
It didn't make sense to take on a riskier adjustable loan; ARM rates have ranged between 2.37% and 2.56% between last August and the end of December.
Now with rates on 30-year fixed loans more than doubling to around 5.3% this week – and ARMs often coming in at more than a point less – homeowners are going for it.
Many readers might remember ARMs from the housing bubble that led to the 2008 financial crisis and subsequent bailout.
Back then, many subprime (unqualified or high-risk) borrowers took out interest-only ARMs with super-low teaser rates that would skyrocket to unaffordable levels – some after 1, 3 or 5 years.
When their monthly payments went up, many of them couldn't pay and wound up in foreclosure and bankruptcy.
Banking regulations and underwriting standards have tightened since then, prohibiting a lot of that kind of stuff.
I’m writing this ahead of the three day Memorial Day Holiday, so I’ll try and keep it short. Like many of you, we too have some delicious plans for the weekend, and writing a long drawn-out article wasn’t high in the ranking. Ha. But I do want to talk briefly about the market and what I see happening.
For over two weeks, I’d been looking for a bear market bounce to occur. Maybe three actually. But each one ended up just being a one-day wonder, where on very low volume they’d send the DOW up 4, 5, 600 points, only to see it roll over and flop the next day. It was frustrating, not to mention the intra day volatility that often saw round trip swings of 900+ points. Great for daytrading, but not so hot for swing trades, or short term holds.
Well, starting this past Monday, the market (especially the DOW) decided it was finally time and we’ve seen them put in a powerful reversal. It was pretty overdue, as the market had fallen for 5 weeks in a row. But we finally got it and because people have short memories, there’s a ton of chatter that the bottom is in, and now we’re starting the first legs of a new bull market.
That could be possible. Anything is possible. But is it probable? That’s up for debate. So really quick, let’s ask a few questions and see where the answers lead us.
Stocks, bonds and precious metals plummeted again today as Wall Street reacted with continuing, unencumbered knee jerks to soaring inflation.
It appears there’s widespread distrust and a self-fulfilling fear among investors about how forceful the Federal Reserve will be as it tries to put the evil genie back in the bottle.
The S&P 500 is now officially in a bear market, down nearly 22% since it hit its most recent high on January 3rd.
Matt Phillips writes that these market moves highlight the deeply uncertain outlook after more than a decade of growth for stocks and gold and low bond yields that made borrowing more affordable than ever for investors and consumers alike.
So affordable, in fact, that U.S. consumers’ collective personal debt has risen to over $23 trillion – about $69,800 per citizen.
The S&P 500 benchmark index closed down 3.9% on the day. The Nasdaq composite index fell 4.7%. The yield on 10-year Treasuries climbed 0.22 points to 3.39%.
Plus, bitcoin is down another 14%+ over the past 24 hours, and rates on the 30-year fixed mortgage hit 6.13%.
Spiking prices are overshadowing the Fed’s policy meeting tomorrow and Wednesday, where the Federal Open Market Committee will almost certainly hike interest rates by at least another half a percentage point.
Inflation is driving prices upward at the highest level in over 40 years, leaving the Fed with little wiggle room to cut interest rates in the face of dizzying markets — as it has done repeatedly in recent years, most recently in 2019.
For now, the markets will have to figure out how to live without the support of the Fed.
The Federal Reserve’s dual mandate is to promote stable prices and maximize employment. Today, we take a look at how current events are affecting those policy mandates.
Early Pandemic Layoffs Driving Today’s Labor Shortages
One only has to recall the infancy of the pandemic to see why employers in a broad range of industries are struggling with historic labor shortages.
Decisions made in 2020 to cut staff appear to be a root cause of many 2022 frustrations, according to Courtenay Brown and Neil Irwin of Axios.
The industries hardest hit at the pandemic's onset — restaurants, hotels and airlines — are now those seeing a boom in demand.
Even with higher pay, though, they're struggling to replace the workers they laid off back then – some of whom have moved to other industries where the pay is comparable or higher and working conditions are better.
The worker shortage has pushed businesses to raise wages rapidly, which has, in turn, kept inflation elevated.
On the other hand, this dynamic has been more subdued in Europe.
Before anyone had time to fully explain June's inflation numbers, the growls had already begun on trading desks and research shops:
Maybe in two weeks the Fed will raise interest rates by a full percentage point — the most at a single meeting in its modern history.
This increasingly likely scenario shows the jam the Fed has gotten itself into, with Fed officials seeking to express to the country a whatever-it-takes attitude. Neil Irwin and Courtenay Brown say that’s put them in a corner.
It’s a precarious situation where high inflation reports demand a mounting series of interest rate hikes and other policy moves that end with reduced consumer and business spending and a cratering economy.
Just last month, a high May inflation reading drove Fed leaders to make a last-minute shift to raise interest rates by 75 basis points, not the 50-point increase they had been signaling.
Well, here we go again. Wednesday's BLS report showed a 9.1% rise in the Consumer Price Index over the last year — and perhaps more significantly, the uptick of monthly core inflation to 0.7% in June.
And yesterday’s Producer Price Index, which essentially reflects wholesale prices charged to retailers, was even higher – at 11.3%.
It was a "major league disappointment," as Fed governor Christopher Waller said in a speech afterwards. The stock markets agreed.
The reports set off alarm bells throughout the financial world that recent history would repeat itself and, by day's end, the CME futures markets would almost fully price in a one-percentage-point rate hike at the end of the month.
Americans expect inflation to drop precipitously over the next three years, according to the New York Fed.
And Neil Irwin says “that's great news for anyone who doesn't want current prices to become the new normal.”
The NY Fed’s July Survey of Consumer Expectations, released today, shows marked drops in how households expect inflation to be across a variety of time horizons.
History shows that the higher we expect inflation to be, the more likely it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as businesses feel more comfortable raising prices and workers demand steeper wages.
In that sense, Irwin says falling inflation expectations “are a welcome sign that the high inflation of the last year is not causing a long-lasting shift in Americans' psychology around money.”
But inflation expectations in the July survey remain far above the levels that we saw in the years before the pandemic and are above the 2% inflation rate the Fed target.
In fact, consumers expect inflation to be 6.2% over the next year. That’s down from 6.8% in June and is the steepest one-month drop since the survey began nine years ago (CPI rose an annual 9.1% in June).
The potential good news lies in expectations over the next three years having fallen to 3.2% from 3.6%, and 5-year expectations to 2.3% from 2.8%
Irwin reports that the drop was most evident among survey respondents making less than $50,000.
He surmises that’s a possible reflection of those consumers, who were most affected by soaring oil and gasoline prices, seeing relief at gas pumps last month.
Fed chair Jerome Powell mentioned the NY Fed's results as a reason to continue aggressive rate increases at the Federal Open Market Committee’s June policy meeting.
Thus, Irwin believes the falling expectations “will likely give comfort to the central bank.”
And oh what a week it’s been. Let’s go back to last week for a minute. Last Tuesday the market capped off a blistering to week run, by having the S&P run “smack dab” into its 200 day moving average. Now a lot of people will tell you that the 50 and 200 day moving averages don’t carry as much weight as they used to, but they still carry some clout.
When the S&P hit that 200 day, that whole two week climb came to a screeching halt and we started heading down a bit, but nothing major. Until Friday. Friday the wheels fell off and we plunged. That carried into Monday of this week as the market puked for another big drop. Tuesday and Wednesday the market sort of “ran in place” trying to figure out if they had over reacted on the big sell down.
Meanwhile over in Wyoming at the Jackson Hole economic meeting, all the movers and shakers were talking about the economy, inflation, and interest rates. Despite several fed heads telling folks that they think rates must go higher, most of the talking heads began to tell folks that it seemed the Fed might only do a 50 basis point hike at its next meeting. (Hogwash, you’ll see why)
The duo’s historic cross-country expedition began in 1804, when President Thomas Jefferson directed Meriwether Lewis to explore lands west of the Mississippi included in the Louisiana Purchase.
Lewis chose William Clark as his co-leader for the mission. Their treacherous adventure lasted over two years.
Along the way, they faced hostile weather, unforgiving terrain, perilous waters, bodily injury, persistent hunger, disease and both friendly and unwelcoming Native Americans.
Nevertheless, their roughly 8,000-mile trek was deemed a big success and provided new geographic, ecological and cultural information about previously unmapped areas of North America.
It was all about slow and steady.
Fast Forward 400 Years.......
One of the economy’s many enigmas in 2022 has been “blockbuster jobs growth during a time of very low unemployment vs. complaints of a labor shortage,” according to Courtenay Brown and Neil Irwin.
They add that since earlier in the year, it’s seemed like something has had to give. Now, new evidence suggests that "something" may have arrived.
ADP, the nation's largest payroll processor, rolled out its new measure of private-sector payrolls on Wednesday.
In partnership with Stanford University’s Digital Economy Lab, the ADP Research Institute indicator infers data based on workers added or cut and paychecks sent by its own massive client base.
The other day, it showed private employers added 132,000 jobs in August — less than half from the 270,000 in July, and the lowest reading since January last year.
The newly designed ADP report aims to capture underlying employment trends compared to its older version that essentially represented little more than a prediction of what the BLS would report two days later.
Well…today’s job report shows that 318,000 jobs were added to private payrolls last month, the lowest gain since April 2021 and well below July's 526,000, but just slightly below economists' estimate of 318,000.