Central bank palooza!
While music lovers attended concerts and festivals across the United States, central banks had a lollapalooza of their own. The U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) led things off last Wednesday, followed by the European Central Bank (ECB) on Thursday, and the Bank of Japan (BOJ) on Friday. Here’s what happened:
The Fed continued to play a familiar tune at July’s Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) meeting, raising the effective federal funds rate from 5.08 percent to 5.33 percent. Fed Chair Jerome Powell stated, “Inflation remains well above our longer-run goal of 2 percent…Despite elevated inflation, longer-term inflation expectations appear to remain well anchored, as reflected in a broad range of surveys of households, businesses, and forecasters, as well as measures from financial markets.”
In addition to raising rates, the Fed is engaged in quantitative tightening (QT) – selling assets, or letting them mature, to reduce the Fed’s balance sheet. Like rate hikes, QT is intended to slow economic activity and the pace of inflation. Currently, the Fed is reducing its balance sheet by about $60 billion a month.
The ECB was singing the Fed’s tune. It lifted rates from 3.50 percent to 3.75 percent, reported CNBC. In the European Union, the inflation rate was 5.5 percent in June, down from a high of 8.6 percent last summer. Prices are rising at the slowest pace in Luxembourg (1.0 percent, annualized) and the fastest in Hungary (19.9 percent, annualized).
The BOJ sent a shiver through markets when it unexpectedly changed its yield curve policy, while leaving its short-term policy interest rate unchanged. For years, Japan’s central bank has kept rates very low to encourage spending and investment. The change in its policy caused yields to surge higher, reported Toru Fujioka, and Sumio Ito of Bloomberg.
The surprise move is important because, “Japanese investors have spent more than $3 trillion offshore in search of higher yields. Economists warn that even a small shift to policy normalization may prompt Japanese cash to flood out of global markets and back home,” reported Garfield Reynolds of Bloomberg,
The BOJ’s policy change wasn’t the only surprise last week. The U.S. economy also upended expectations as its growth accelerated in the second quarter. Gross domestic product (GDP), which is the value of all goods and services produced in the U.S., grew by 2.4 percent from April through June. That was well above both first quarter growth (2.0 percent) and economists’ expectations for second quarter growth (1.5 percent), reported Angela Palumbo of Barron’s. Economists who thought the July rate hike might be the Fed’s rate-hiking-cycle finale headed back to their spreadsheets to reassess the data.
Last week, major U.S. stock indices finished higher, reported Barron’s. Yields on short U.S. Treasuries finished the week above 5 percent and most longer maturity Treasuries offered yields above 4 percent. The exception was the benchmark 10-year U.S. Treasury.
Better than expected.
In January of this year, the Bloomberg’s MLIV Pulse survey collected and shared investors’ expectations for stock markets. Survey participants were generally a gloomy group. Seventy percent believed the United States stock market would move lower in 2023, and most indicated the drop would happen in the latter half of the year, according to Jess Menton and Liz Capo McCormick of Bloomberg. The pair reported:
“Stock bulls are solidly in the minority, with only 18% of survey participants saying they expect to increase their exposure to the S&P 500 in the next month. Over half say they will keep their exposure the same, while some 27% anticipate decreasing it.”
Recently, analysts have revised their estimates.
So far this year, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index has rocketed past many analysts’ year-end estimates for the Standard & Poor’s (S&P) 500 Index, reported John Authers and Isabelle Lee of Bloomberg. It is so far ahead of projections that even analysts who remain bearish – and think the S&P 500 will drop before year end – recently adjusted their expectations, moving year-end targets for the index higher.
“New information has emerged over the last six months, and events have moved the market. They might well justify a higher year-end index value than seemed likely Jan. 1…To borrow the famous quote from Keynes, if the facts change then you should be prepared to change your opinion…But now the… market takes a role. Markets can create their own reality. As the index rises, and influential investment houses raise their targets for it, so that adds to the momentum upwards in the share price,” wrote Authers and Lee.
As analysts revise performance forecasts, economists are rethinking the likelihood of recession. With inflation falling and the economy showing continued strength, a July survey found that economists raised their estimates for economic growth in the U.S. during second and third quarters of this year. In addition, they see a lower chance of recession, 60 percent, over the next 12 months, according to Rich Miller, Molly Smith and Kyungjin Yoo of Bloomberg.
Last week, The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 Index finished higher, according to Barron’s. The Nasdaq Composite lost ground after some technology companies reported disappointing earnings, reported Cecile Gutscher and Isabelle Lee of Bloomberg. Yields on many maturities of U.S. Treasuries finished the week flat or slightly higher.
Disinflation was in the air!
To the great relief of the Federal Reserve, the American economy has been experiencing “disinflation,” which is a slowdown in the rate of inflation. For example, last week we learned that:
Inflation fell to a two year low in June. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) showed that prices rose just 3 percent from June 2022 through June 2023. That was lowest inflation has been in two years, reported Augusta Saraiva of Bloomberg.
Core inflation was lower, but not as low. The core CPI, which excludes volatile food and energy prices, also dropped to a two-year low, coming in at 4.8 percent. While inflation is still well above the Federal Reserve’s target rate of two percent, the slower rate of increases was welcome news for everyone who has been concerned about the effects of higher costs on their budgets.
Producer prices flattened. The Producer Price Index followed on the heels of the CPI. It showed that prices were almost flat for producers, rising just 0.1 percent over the 12 months through June 2023. Reade Pickert of Bloomberg reported, “Normalizing global supply chains, stabilizing commodity prices, and a broader shift in consumer demand toward services and away from goods have generally helped alleviate inflationary pressures at the producer level.”
Disinflation should not be confused with deflation, which happens when the inflation rate is negative, and prices fall. While deflation may sound attractive, it is usually associated with undesirable economic conditions, including recessions and stagnant growth, reported the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
Last week, major U.S. stock indices finished higher, according to Barron’s. The Standard & Poor’s 500 and Nasdaq Composite Indexes hit new highs mid-week on positive inflation and earnings news. U.S. Treasuries rallied early and then changed direction with yields moving higher toward the end of the week, reported Rita Nazareth of Bloomberg.
Markets are playing Federal Reserve (Fed) Clue.
Last week, investors parsed the monthly Employment Situation Summary from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for clues about whether the Fed will raise the federal funds rate at its next meeting or leave the rate unchanged, reported Megan Leonhardt of Barron’s. The Fed has been aggressively raising the rate to slow the pace of inflation. Higher rates typically lead to slower economic growth and fewer jobs, so the employment report offers some signals about the Fed’s progress so far and what may come next.
After perusing the report, investors appeared to agree the Fed was likely to continue raising the federal funds rate. Barron’s reported, “The labor market is still running more warm than cool—June’s jobs data is still well above the baseline standards of a tight labor market—and it builds the case for Fed officials to press the play button and again increase rates in July. On Friday, the likelihood that the Fed would raise rates during the upcoming July [meeting] stood at 94.9%, according to the CME FedWatch tool.”
Here are some of the report highlights:
Overall, the unemployment rate ticked lower (3.6 percent). Generally, low unemployment a sign of economic strength. The unemployment rate varied by race. It was 3.1 percent for the White population, 3.2 percent for the Asian population, 4.3 percent for the Hispanic/Latino population, and 6.0 percent for the Black population.
Fewer jobs were created in June (209,000) than in May (306,000). The slower pace of job creation is one sign the economy may be losing steam. It’s also possible the jobs numbers could prove to be less robust than the first estimate suggests. The preliminary employment numbers for April and May were revised lower in the June report.
Workers took home more pay. Average hourly earnings increased in June and were up 4.4 percent over the last 12 months. That means consumers had more money in their pockets to spend. Since consumer spending is the main driver of economic growth in the United States, this was probably not what the Fed wanted to see.
Last week, major U.S. stock indices finished lower, reported Barron’s Data. Yields on U.S. Treasuries finished the week higher. 7
Showing remarkable resilience.
Throughout the first half of 2023, the U.S. economy and financial markets proved to be resilient – and so did investors. U.S. stock markets moved higher amid enthusiasm for artificial intelligence and expectations that the Federal Reserve’s tightening cycle might be near an end. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index entered a bull market and the Nasdaq Composite Index delivered its best first-half performance in 40 years, gaining more than 30 percent over the period, reported Barron’s.
So far this year, many investors have remained optimistic amid significant uncertainty that included:
It's likely that uncertainty and volatility will continue. Last week, major U.S. stock indices finished higher, reported Barron’s Data.11 Yields on most U.S. Treasuries finished the week higher.