Central bank tightening sparked recession fears.
Last week, the Federal Reserve (Fed) raised the federal funds rate for the fifth time this year. During 2022, the Fed has lifted its benchmark rate from near zero to 3.12 percent. Fed policymakers indicated that they expect to raise the rate again this year. That’s going to make borrowing more expensive as rates on credit cards, home mortgages and business loans increase.
Frankly, that’s the Fed’s goal. It wants to tamp down consumer and business spending. When spending falls, demand for goods and services falls and so do prices. Lower prices mean lower inflation. Unfortunately, inflation has a long way to fall. The Fed’s inflation target is two percent. In August, the Consumer Price Index showed inflation was 8.3 percent.
The Fed isn’t the only central bank hiking its country’s rate. “We are experiencing one of the most synchronized bouts of monetary and fiscal tightening in the past five decades,” reported Daniel Moss of Bloomberg. Ninety central banks have raised rates during 2022.
“The relentlessness with which central banks are increasing interest rates reflects alarm at rising prices — and an aversion to being portrayed as insufficiently courageous at a time of economic peril. With so much hiking, officials should fret about the broader impact of the course they are on. The recession they are courting may be no ordinary downturn.”
The possibility of a global recession was top of mind for investors last week. Major U.S. stock indices dropped lower, and yields on U.S. Treasury yields reached multi-year highs.
In times like these, people often worry about how to protect the wealth they have accumulated. In the investment industry, we say that past performance is no guarantee of future results; however, during market downturns, it can be reassuring to consider current market events within the context of long-term market events.
A chart of the performance of the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index shows that the path of investing is rarely smooth and upward. Bull markets follow bear markets with corrections along the way. The accumulation of evidence over time supports the idea that staying the course is a sound choice during market downturns. It takes patience and discipline, and it can be particularly difficult to do during times like these.
It’s open to interpretation.
Jackson Pollock was an action painter. He poured, dropped, and dripped paint onto horizontal canvases. Some people look at his work and wonder why it’s highly valued. Others find deep meaning in the paintings. For instance, Pollock’s Convergence is a collage of splattered colors that has been described as “the embodiment of free speech and freedom of expression…It was everything that America stood for all wrapped up in a messy, but deep package.”
Today, gauging the state of the American economy is akin to interpreting abstract art. Many economic indicators suggest the economy remains strong despite the Federal Reserve’s efforts to cool it off. For example:
While economic data are open to interpretation, one thing is for sure: many investors are not happy. Retail investors remained strongly bearish last week, according to the AAII Sentiment Survey, and institutional investors had little appetite for risk. Some investors are making losses permanent by moving from equities to cash. Some are holding investments as they wait for the turmoil to end, and others are waiting patiently for opportunities to arise in the midst of market volatility.
Major U.S. stock indices moved lower last week, and U.S. Treasury yields moved higher across the yield curve.
Central banks are hawkish. Stocks popped higher, anyway.
Last week, despite signs that inflation is slowing, U.S. Federal Reserve (Fed) officials emphasized their commitment to tightening monetary policy to lower inflation. Several indicated they anticipate a third consecutive rate hike of 75 basis points, reported Craig Torres and Matthew Boesler of Bloomberg.
Investors seemed to disregard the Fed as U.S. stocks moved higher, snapping a three-week losing streak. The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index finished the week up 3.6 percent, the Dow Jones Industrial Average gained 2.7 percent, and the Nasdaq Composite rose 4.1 percent, reported Christine Idzelis and Joseph Adinolfi of MarketWatch.
The European Central Bank (ECB) announced a rate increase of 75 basis points and revised its expectations for inflation higher last week. The ECB emphasized that tightening will continue and more rate hikes are likely. European stocks rose following the ECB’s announcement, reported Karen Gilchrist and Katrina Bishop of CNBC.
Last week’s stock market gains were a bit confounding, especially when you consider the fact that money has been flowing out of global equities and bonds and into cash and investments that are perceived to be safe havens. The stock market’s performance may be the result of investors whose only option was to buy shares. Bloomberg’s Lu Wang and Isabelle Lee explained:
“In a week that saw discretionary buyers beat a quick retreat from risky assets, another set of traders stood up to halt a three-week plunge in the S&P 500: those with little choice but to buy. They included short sellers, whose rush to cover lifted stocks [that] they’re betting against to gains of more than twice the market’s. Options dealers were another bullish force after getting caught needing to boost hedges by buying stocks when they rise.”
Major U.S. stock indices moved higher last week, and U.S. Treasury yields moved higher across the yield curve.
You may have heard this one: Don’t fight the Fed.
The Fed is the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States. Among other things, the Fed influences monetary conditions in pursuit of price stability and full employment. As we’ve seen recently – with unemployment low and inflation high – the Fed’s job isn’t simple or straightforward.
“Don’t fight the Fed” is a bit of wisdom that encourages investors to align their portfolios with current monetary policy. “The rationale is deceptively intuitive. If the Federal Reserve is cutting interest rates or is generally accommodative, then the ensuing liquidity should provide a positive backdrop for risk assets like stocks. If the Fed is raising rates or constraining liquidity, that activity tends to be a headwind for equities and other assets,” reported Steve Sosnick of Barron’s.
After the Fed confirmed its commitment to rein in inflation by raising rates, the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index finished August lower.
“In retrospect, bulls should maybe have been more worried that one of the most reliable tools the Federal Reserve has for subduing inflation is to scare the U.S. equity market,” reported Isabelle Lee and Lu Wang of Bloomberg. They cited studies that found, “Disinflationary effects have historically kicked in when the S&P 500 drops more than 19%...It breached that level in June and is now approaching it again…every dollar lost in stocks leads to a 3-cent reduction in spending.”
It will be interesting to see whether spending moves lower. While stock markets dropped in August, consumer sentiment moved higher. After falling for three consecutive months, the Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index® increased in August. (The Index sets 100 at 1985 sentiment levels. In 1985, the United States was in its third year of economic growth following a recession.) Last month, sentiment was 103.2, up from 95.3 in July.
Some economists see consumer sentiment as a lagging economic indicator, meaning that it reflects what happened in the past, because it takes time for consumers to respond to economic events. Others think consumer sentiment is a leading indicator because it suggests where spending, which is the biggest driver of U.S. economic growth, may be headed. Consumer spending accounts for close to 70 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), which is how economic growth is measured.
Last week, major U.S. stock indices finished lower after the U.S. employment report showed solid jobs growth, suggesting that the Federal Reserve will continue to raise rates, reported Ben Levisohn of Barron’s. U.S. Treasury yields rose across the yield curve when compared to the previous week’s close.