Federal Reserve Chair Jerome Powell threw cold water on mounting speculation that the central bank is nearing the end of its tightening campaign and will soon reverse course to cutting interest rates.
In a speech at Spelman College on Friday, Powell asserted “it would be premature” for investors to conclude the Fed’s policy stance is restrictive enough given lingering inflation pressures. He stated plainly that more rate hikes could still be on the table if appropriate.
His sobering comments follow the latest inflation data showing core PCE, the Fed’s preferred gauge, ticked down slightly to 3.5% annually in October. Though marking a fourth consecutive month of slow improvement, Powell emphasized the number remains well above the Fed’s 2% target.
“While the lower inflation readings of the past few months are welcome, that progress must continue if we are to reach our 2% objective,” he said.
Nonetheless, overeager investors have jumped the gun on declaring victory over inflation and penciling in imminent rate cuts. Billionaire Bill Ackman predicted this week that cuts could come as soon as Q1 2024.
But Powell asserted the full impact of the Fed’s blistering pace of rate hikes this year has likely not yet transmitted through the economy. Plus, he noted core PCE has averaged 2.5% over the past six months – still too high for comfort.
Key Takeaways for Investors
The Fed chair’s remarks make clear that policymakers see their inflation-taming mission as incomplete despite markets cheering each new downward tick. Here are the big implications for investors:
- Rate cuts are not coming anytime soon. The Fed wants concrete evidence that inflation is reverting steadily to its 2% goal before it contemplates easing policy. Powell admission that more hikes could happen dispels investor hopes for a swift policy pivot.
- Stocks may face renewed volatility. Exuberant bets on imminent rate cuts provided major tailwinds for this year’s risk asset rebound. With the Fed dampening that narrative, investors may recalibrate positions. Powell cautioned about the unusual uncertainty still permeating the economic outlook.
- Recession risks linger in 2024. The full brunt of the Fed’s Super-Size rate hikes has yet to impact the real economy. Powell made clear policy will stay restrictive for some time to have its intended effect of slowing demand and consumer spending. That keeps recession risks on the radar, especially in the back half of next year.
Navigating the Volatility Ahead
With the Fed determined to remain the grinch raining on investor enthusiasms around pivots, next year promises more turbulence for markets. Savvy investors should:
Trim exposure to interest-rate sensitive assets: Risks remain heavily skewed towards more volatility as the Fed asserts its hawkish credibility. ratchet down exposure to bonds, utilities, real estate and other rate-vulnerable sectors.
Emphasize inflation hedges: The Fed’s clear-eyed focus on returning inflation to 2% means investors should still prioritize inflation-fighting assets like commodities, TIPS, floating-rate bank loans, and short-duration bonds. These provide buffers against rising prices.
Stay nimble amid cross-currents: Between lingering inflation and slowing growth, crosswinds for investors abound. Being opportunistic yet disciplined will be critical, as risk appetites could sour quickly depending on upcoming data and guidance from the Fed. Maintaining flexibility and even selective hedges allows investors to adeptly navigate the turbulence ahead under Powell’s resolute hawkish watch.