The Truth About the Fed Pivot Rumors

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Image Credit: Camilo Rueda López (Flickr)

A Lack of Fed Pivot Doesn’t Have to Equate to Lower Stock Prices

The Fed is not likely to have suddenly indicated a pivot.

Despite the stock market rally and fresh news stories suggesting the Fed is indicating a more dovish stance, the notion has one problem. There are limits placed on Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) participants and whether they can grant interviews or give speeches before policy-setting meetings. They can not interact on the subject of policy. The current blackout period began October 22nd and will carry through the November 2nd final meeting day. So, investors may wish to consider other reasons if the stock market is rallying. Earnings, oversold conditions, year-end rally, perhaps news stories created by bloggers or journalists that don’t possess experience or understanding.

Image: Number of times “Fed Pivot” was searched using Google 

Current State of Tightening

This year the Fed has been tightening aggressively after having brought interest rates down aggressively a couple of years back. For many investors, a tightening cycle, ending with interest rates a safe margin above the inflation rate, is not something they can recall. This is because the Fed has been stabilizing employment during tricky times in a way that has lifted the markets out of whatever trouble there may have been. Rates have been well below the average 6% to 8% range. This has been going on since at least 2008 –  by some measures, way before.

There have been five times since late Spring that investors and TV’s talking heads were convinced the Fed has gone too far and will now begin bringing rates back. So far, all the hoping has done nothing to help; the track record stands at zero for five. While it remains to be seen and heard what to expect from monetary policy starting mid-next week, the current inflation rate and words that the Fed board members have said indicate another 75 bp hike in funds.

Looking Forward

Can this change? We get a look at third-quarter GDP on Thursday. This measures U.S. domestic production. A bad number could cause the Fed to rethink aggressive tightening. However, the expectations are that it will be higher than it has been all year (2.3% growth rate) which gives the Fed even greater ability to hit the brakes. Also, the PCE Price Index, viewed as the Fed’s preferred inflation indicator, is released Friday (6.3% YoY expected).

The Federal Reserve’s, monetary policy does not cater to the stock market. It does consider it because, of the wealth effect. The wealth effect is where consumers feel poorer because of declines in asset values, and while their disposable income may not have changed, they hunker down and spend less. This secondary impact to spending is the only attention the Fed officially pays to stocks.

Interest Rates

Real interest rates are still negative. Imagine buying a bond knowing that despite being exposed to maturity and credit risk, while tying up money, your spending power will almost certainly be less when it matures. This isn’t why people invest; in fact, if that scenario remains and inflation persists, the best use of savings may be to consider any large purchases you think you may incur in the coming few years and make them now. At the moment, inflation hasn’t shown signs of abating, something has to give; bond investors are going to require higher yields, Japan has already experienced a bond-buyer “strike.”

Where Do We Go from Here

For now, the consensus view is that inflation should drift back down to 3% or even lower by 2025. If energy continues to decline, supply-chain issues are resolved, and a strong U.S. dollar persists, the consensus may be correct. But one should be aware there are very bright economists that deviate from the consensus by plus or minus 300 bp or more.  

The markets may have already priced in bad news; rates heading back to normalcy (upward) doesn’t immediately mean a bad stock market. We can easily rally through the end of the year and still experience a sixth time the Fed has refrained from pivoting but instead has made sure its words were cleansed of anything that can be construed as reversing course.

Paul Hoffman

Managing Editor, Channelchek


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