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Last week, bad news was good news.
Consumers were feeling blue in June, according to the University of Michigan Consumer Sentiment Survey. The survey scored sentiment at 50, which was the lowest level on record. Surveys of Consumers Director Joanne Hsu reported that 79 percent of consumers anticipate business conditions will decline during the next 12 months, and almost half indicated they are spending less because of inflation.
Consumer pessimism was reflected in the S&P Global Flash US Composite PMI™. The Index measured that manufacturing growth was at the lowest level in almost two years. “Declines in production and new sales were driven by weak client demand, as inflation, material shortages and delivery delays led some customers to pause or lower their purchases of goods,” reported S&P Global. The Index was at 52.4. Any reading above 50 indicates growth.
Unhappy consumers and slower growth in manufacturing made investors very happy. Consumer spending drives the economy. So, if consumers begin to spend less and economic growth slows, then the Federal Reserve may slow its rate hikes or raise rates by less. Last week Fed Chair Jerome Powell told Congress:
“The tightening in financial conditions that we have seen in recent months should continue to temper growth and help bring demand into better balance with supply…Over coming months, we will be looking for compelling evidence that inflation is moving down, consistent with inflation returning to 2 percent. We anticipate that ongoing rate increases will be appropriate; the pace of those changes will continue to depend on the incoming data and the evolving outlook for the economy.”
Despite their pessimism, consumers’ expectations for inflation moved lower in June. They anticipate inflation will be about 5.3 percent in the year ahead, and in the range of 2.9 percent to 3.1 percent over the longer term.
Last week, major U.S. stock indices rallied, reported Emily McCormick of Yahoo! Finance. Yields on shorter maturity Treasuries moved higher last week, while yields on longer maturity Treasuries moved lower.
The fight against inflation intensified.
Last week, the Federal Reserve (Fed) delivered a message that it is serious about fighting inflation. The Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) lifted the federal funds target rate by 0.75 percentage points. The fed funds rate is now 1.50 percent to 1.75 percent.
The Fed also has begun to shrink its $9 trillion balance sheet by selling Treasury securities and agency mortgage-backed securities, a process known as quantitative tightening (QT), reported Kate Duguid, Colby Smith, and Tommy Stubbington of Financial Times (FT). The Fed’s balance sheet expanded greatly during the past few years as it engaged in quantitative easing (QE). QE entailed buying Treasury and agency securities to ease financial conditions, strengthen the economy, and support markets during the pandemic.
If QT was a rate hike, it would be “roughly equivalent to raising the policy rate a little more than 50 basis points on a sustained basis,” according to a paper published by the Fed in June. Although, the authors stated there was considerable uncertainty associated with the estimate. It’s hard to be certain about what will happen when the Fed has only attempted QT once before.
Global markets weren’t enthusiastic about the fact that the Fed and other central banks are tightening monetary policy. Harriet Clarfelt and colleagues at FT reported, “US stocks have suffered their heaviest weekly fall since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, after investors were spooked by a series of interest rate increases by big central banks and the threat of an ensuing economic slowdown.”
It’s likely that markets will continue to be volatile, according to the CBOE Volatility (VIX) Index®, which measures expectations for volatility over the next 30 days. The VIX is known as Wall Street’s fear gauge. Last week, it rose to 31. That’s well above its long-term average of 20.
Last week, major U.S. stock indices tumbled, and yields moved higher across much of the Treasury yield curve.
Monday, June 20th the financial markets and our office will be closed for the National Holiday.
Inflation is proving to be far more tenacious than markets had hoped.
The idea that inflation peaked in March was put to rest last week when the Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed that inflation accelerated in May. Overall, prices were up 8.6 percent last month, an increase from April’s 8.3 percent. It was the highest inflation reading we’ve seen since December 1981.
The most significant price increases were in energy (+34.6%) and food (+10.1%). That’s unfortunate because the War in Ukraine has a significant influence on food and energy prices right now, and no one knows how long it will last. In April, the World Bank’s Commodity Markets Outlook reported:
“The war in Ukraine has been a major shock to global commodity markets. The supply of several commodities has been disrupted, leading to sharply higher prices, particularly for energy [natural gas, coal, crude oil], fertilizers, and some grains [wheat, barley, and corn].”
With inflation rising, the Federal Reserve will continue to aggressively raise the federal funds rate. There is a 50-50 chance the Fed will raise rates by 0.75 percent in July (rather than 0.50 percent), and some economists say there could be a 0.75% hike this week when the Fed meets, reported Scott Lanman and Kristin Aquino of Bloomberg.
The inflation news unsettled already volatile stock and bond markets. Major U.S. stock indices declined last week as investors reassessed the potential impact of higher interest rates and inflation on company earnings and share prices, reported Randall W. Forsyth of Barron’s. The Treasury yield curve flattened a bit as the yield on two-year Treasuries rose to a multi-year high, reported Jacob Sonenshine and Jack Denton of Barron’s. The benchmark 10-year Treasury Note finished the week yielding more than 3 percent.
There was a hint of good news in the report. The core CPI, which excludes food and energy prices because they are volatile and can distort pricing trends, is trending lower. It dropped from 6.5 percent in March to 6.2 percent in April and 6.0 percent in May.
The Federal Reserve’s favored inflation gauge is the Personal Consumption Price (PCE) Index, which will be released on June 30.
Please note on Thursday, June 9th our office will close at 4:00pm. Thank you.
How strong is the United States economy?
That’s the question investors were mulling after last week’s jobs report.
More jobs were created in May than economists expected, and the labor force participation rate rose, meaning even more people are returning to work. Overall, the unemployment rate remained at 3.6 percent. However, unemployment rates varied by age, sex and race:
From an inflation perspective, there was some good news in the employment report as earnings increased at a slower pace than in previous months. Apart from that bit of good news, “More jobs added and higher wages are signs of a strong economy…the concern is that inflation will remain close to its recent peak,” reported Joel Woelfel and Jacob Sonenshine of Barron’s.
Some pointed to layoffs at technology companies as a sign the economy might be weakening. However, as Randall Forsyth of Barron’s reported:
“…16,800 pink slips were handed out last month by 66 technology companies, the most since May 2020 at the depth of the pandemic…Many of those cuts came from outfits with much promise, but no profits, that burned through copious amounts of cash bestowed by a once-ebullient equity market.”
Investors who hoped the Fed would ease up were disappointed by the strength of the employment report. The data reinforced expectations that the Federal Reserve will continue to tighten monetary policy, causing the economy to cool down and inflationary forces to recede, reported Barron’s.
Bond markets appear to agree that the Fed will have to work harder to tame inflation. The U.S. Treasury yield curve moved higher as rates on all maturities of U.S. Treasuries marched higher during the week. That also suggests recession concerns may be overblown, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s.
Major U.S. stock indices moved lower last week.