Tag Archives: Fed Rate Hike

The Fed Has Run Out Of Road, In Three Charts

Critics of “New Age” monetary policy have been predicting that central banks would eventually run out of ways to trick people into borrowing money.

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There are at least three reasons to wonder if that time has finally come:

Wage inflation is accelerating

Normally, towards the end of a cycle companies have trouble finding enough workers to keep up with their rising sales. So they start paying new hires more generously. This ignites “wage inflation,” which is one of the signals central banks use to decide when to start raising interest rates. The following chart shows a big jump in wages in the second half of 2017. And that’s before all those $1,000 bonuses that companies have lately been handing out in response to lower corporate taxes. So it’s a safe bet that wage inflation will accelerate during the first half of 2018.

https://i0.wp.com/dollarcollapse.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Wage-inflation-Feb-18.jpg?ssl=1

The conclusion: It’s time for higher interest rates.

The financial markets are flaking out

The past week was one for the record books, as bonds (both junk and sovereign) and stocks tanked pretty much everywhere while exotic volatility-based funds imploded. It was bad in the US but worse in Asia, where major Chinese markets fell by nearly 10% — an absolutely epic decline for a single week.

https://i1.wp.com/dollarcollapse.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/NASDAQ-Feb-18.jpg?ssl=1

Normally (i.e., since the 1990s) this kind of sharp market break would lead the world’s central banks to cut interest rates and buy financial assets with newly-created currency. Why? Because after engineering the greatest debt binge in human history, the monetary authorities suspect that even a garden-variety 20% drop in equity prices might destabilize the whole system, and so can’t allow that to happen.

The conclusion: Central banks have to cut rates and ramp up asset purchases, and quickly, before things spin out of control.

So – as their critics predicted – central banks are in a box of their own making. If they don’t raise rates inflation will start to run wild, but if they don’t cut rates the financial markets might collapse, threatening the world as we know it.

There’s not enough ammo in any event

Another reason why central banks raise rates is to gain the ability to turn around and cut rates to counter the next downturn.

But in this cycle central banks were so traumatized by the near-death experience of the Great Recession that they hesitated to raise rates even as the recovery stretched into its eighth year and inflation started to revive. The Fed, in fact, is among the small handful of central banks that have raised rates at all. And as the next chart illustrates, it’s only done a little. Note that in the previous two cycles, the Fed Funds rate rose to more than 5%, giving the Fed the ability to cut rates aggressively to stimulate new borrowing. But – if the recent stock and bond market turmoil signals an end to this cycle – today’s Fed can only cut a couple of percentage points before hitting zero, which won’t make much of a dent in the angst that normally dominates the markets’ psyche in downturns.

Most other central banks, meanwhile, are still at or below zero. In a global downturn they’ll have to go sharply negative.

https://i1.wp.com/dollarcollapse.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Fed-funds-rate-Fed-18.jpg?ssl=1

So here’s a scenario for the next few years: Central banks focus on the “real” economy of wages and raw material prices and (soaring) government deficits for a little while longer and either maintain current rates or raise them slightly. This reassures no one, bond yields continue to rise, stock markets grow increasingly volatile, and something – another week like the last one, for instance – happens to force central banks to choose a side.

They of course choose to let inflation run in order to prevent a stock market crash. They cut rates into negative territory around the world and restart or ramp up QE programs.

And it occurs to everyone all at once that negative-yielding paper is a terrible deal compared to real assets that generate positive cash flow (like resource stocks and a handful of other favored sectors like defense) – or sound forms of money like gold and silver that can’t be inflated away.

The private sector sells its bonds to the only entities willing to buy them – central banks – forcing the latter to create a tsunami of new currency, which sends fiat currencies on a one-way ride towards their intrinsic value. Gold and silver (and maybe bitcoin) soar as everyone falls in sudden love with safe havens.

And the experiment ends, as it always had to, in chaos.

https://www.zerohedge.com/sites/default/files/inline-images/2018-02-11_8-32-30.jpg?itok=dLAzsuZw

Source: ZeroHedge

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Running Hot

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Summary

✖  Janet Yellen is kicking around the idea of backing off of the Fed’s 2% inflation target.

✖  If the Fed lets the economy run hot, the yield curve will steepen.

✖  Equities should rally.

✖  Gold looks vulnerable with real yields still too low.

Janet Yellen, in a speech on Friday mentioned that the Fed could choose to allow the U.S. economy to “run hot” to allow for an increase in the labor participation rate. In typical Fed fashion, the goalposts are being moved once again, and the implication for the yield curve is important.

In Holbrook’s Q2 newsletter, “Brexit is not the Problem, Central Bank Policy is,” we wrote:

“Another scenario, one which Holbrook recognizes but does not represent our base forecast, is that the Federal Reserve will continue to drag its feet and not respond to accelerated wage gains. In this environment, longer-term yields will rise as inflationary expectations rebound. Larry Summers, among others, has recently advocated for such Fed policy, calling for them to increase their inflation targets. If this materializes, short-term rates will remain low, and the yield curve will steepen.” – July 1st, 2016

Janet Yellen’s comments on Friday indicate that this scenario is increasingly likely. It seems that the Federal Reserve, rather than taking a proactive stance against inflation as it has done in the past, it is going to be reactionary. If this is the case, investors can shift their attention from leading indicators like unemployment claims and wage growth, and instead focus on lagging indicators like PPI and CPI when assessing future Fed action.

The fixed income market is still pricing in a 65% likelihood of a rate hike in December, and given the abundance of dissenters at the September meeting, as well as recent remarks from Stanley Fischer, we expect the Fed to raise in December. After which, we presume the Federal Reserve will declare all meetings live and “data-dependent.” We expect that the Federal Reserve will NOT raise rates again until the core PCE deflator (their preferred measure) breaches 2%.

If they do choose to let the economy “run hot,” the market will need to figure out what level of inflation the Federal Reserve considers to be “hot.” Is it 2.5%? Is it 3%? At what level does the labor participation rate need to reach for further Fed normalization?

These questions will be answered in time as investors parse through the litany of Fed commentary over the next couple of months. In any case, a shift in the Fed mandate is gaining traction. Rather than fighting inflation, the Federal Reserve is now fighting the low labor participation rate. Holbrook expects such a policy to manifest itself in the following manner:

  1. Steepening yield curve
  2. Weakening dollar
  3. Further commodity appreciation

In terms of the equity markets, we expect the broad market to rally into year-end after the election – whatever the outcome. Bearish sentiment is still pervasive, and Fed inaction in the face of higher inflation should be welcomed by equity investors, at least in the short run. Holbrook is also cautious regarding gold. Gold is often described as an inflation hedge. However, this is incorrect. It is a real rate hedge. As real rates move lower, gold moves higher, and vice versa. With real rates at historical lows, we think there could be further weakness in the yellow metal.

The fixed income market is in the early stages of pricing in a “run-hot” economy. The spread between the yield on the thirty-year bond (most sensitive to changes in inflation) and the two-year bill (sensitive to Fed action) is testing its five-year downtrend. A successful breach indicates that the market has changed. The Federal Reserve is willing to keep rates low, or inflation is on the horizon, or both.

https://staticseekingalpha.a.ssl.fastly.net/uploads/2016/10/20266361_14767482181538_rId10.png

Holbrook’s research shows that during the current bull market, a bear steepening trade (long yields rise more than short-term yields) has implied solid market returns. The S&P 500 advances an average of 2% monthly in this environment. This environment is second only to a bull steepening trade (where short-term rates fall faster than long-term rates) during which the S&P 500 rose more than 3.5% monthly.

Flattening yield curves were detrimental to equity returns. You can see the analysis in our prior perspective, “Trouble with the Curve.” In any case, a steepening yield curve should bode well for equity prices.

Meanwhile, there is ample evidence that inflation is starting to make a comeback. Global producer price indices generally lead the CPI and they have been spiking this year. CPI will likely follow, and not just in the United States.

https://staticseekingalpha.a.ssl.fastly.net/uploads/2016/10/20266361_14767482181538_rId12.png

And finally, although the dollar has rallied over the last couple of weeks in expectation of a late-year rate hike, much of the deflationary effect from a stronger dollar is behind us. The chart below tracks the year-over-year percentage change in the dollar (green line, inverted) versus the year-over-year change in goods inflation (yellow line). The dollar typically leads by four months and as such is lagged in the graph.

As you can see, the shock of a stronger dollar is behind us and it is likely that the price deflation we have experienced will wane. If, over the next four months, the price of goods is flat year over year, which we expect, the core PCE deflator should register above the Fed’s 2% target. The real question is: How will the Fed react when this happens? Will they initiate additional rate hikes? Or will they let the economy “run hot?”

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By Scott Carmack | Seeking Alpha