The Federal Reserve’s Ice Bucket Challenge…
Remember a few years ago when people raised money for charity by challenging others to pour buckets of icy water over their heads? Last week, the Federal Reserve poured a bucket of ice water over the United States stock market. Randall W. Forsyth of Barron’s explained:
“In the past week, Fed officials stepped up their rhetorical anti-inflation campaign, with Jerome Powell all but promising a half-point increase in the federal-funds target range at the next Federal Open Market Committee meeting, on May 3-4. And other Fed district presidents raised the possibility of more forceful action, including rate hikes of as much as three-quarters of a percentage point, something the Fed hasn’t done since 1994.”
The Fed’s goal is to slow high inflation, which has been exacerbated by the war in Ukraine and China’s coronavirus lockdowns, without pushing the American economy into a recession. The question is whether the economy is strong enough to continue to grow as the Fed tightens monetary policy – and opinions about that vary.
One participant in Barron’s Big Money Poll, which surveys institutional investors across the U.S., wrote, “It’s not as bad as people think…Yes, interest rates will rise, but earnings will also rise along with that. Profit margins continue to be very high, and employment is strong. It’s growth slowing down, not ending.”
Another participant disagreed, reported Nicholas Jasinski of Barron’s. “[The Fed] should have started the process of raising rates sooner so they could be more patient with the pace of increases…Now, they are going to be overly aggressive trying to play catch-up, and will probably go too far and slow demand down too much.”
Last week, major U.S. stock indices declined, reported William Watts and Barbara Kollmeyer of MarketWatch, and the real yield* for 10-year U.S. Treasuries was briefly in positive territory for the first time since the pandemic began in 2020, reported Jacob Sonenshine of Barron’s.
*When the term “real” is used with interest rates, it means the rate has been adjusted for inflation (the bond yield minus inflation). So, the real return is what investors would have after inflation.
Consumer sentiment has been bouncing around, too. The preliminary results for the April University of Michigan Survey of Consumer Sentiment showed that sentiment jumped 10 percent from March to April, primarily because consumers are feeling more optimistic about the future.
However, the Consumer Sentiment Index is down 25 percent from April of last year. It’s a remarkable change when you consider what has happened in the economy over the last 12 months. For example:
It’s interesting to note that recent surveys have identified a disconnect between the strength of the economy and Americans’ beliefs about the economy. A February 2022 survey conducted by Navigator Research found that 35 percent of Americans thought the economy was experiencing greater job losses than usual. A February 2022 Gallup Poll found that 42 percent of those surveyed thought the economy was performing poorly.
Nobel Prize-winning economist Robert Shiller has written that strong narratives – true or false stories that catch on with the public – influence people’s thinking and decision-making around markets and the economy. The gap between Americans’ perceptions that the economy has performed poorly and is losing jobs and the reality, which is that we’ve experienced a period of strong jobs growth and economic expansion, provide food for thought.
What stories about markets and the economy have resonated with you recently?
“We are all storytellers. We all live in a network of stories. There isn’t a stronger connection between people than storytelling.”
—Jimmy Neil Smith, founder, International Storytelling Center
https://www.barrons.com/articles/here-come-the-interest-rate-hikes-they-could-be-even-worse-than-you-expected-51650675298?mod=Searchresults (or go to https://resources.carsongroup.com/hubfs/WMC-Source/2022/04-25-22_Barrons_Here%20Come%20the%20Interest-Rate%20Hikes_2.pdf)
https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2022-04-22/fed-dashes-cold-water-on-shock-and-awe-hike-of-75-basis-points (or go to https://resources.carsongroup.com/hubfs/WMC-Source/2022/04-25-22_Bloomberg_Fed%20Dashes%20Cold%20Water%20on%20Shock_3.pdf)
https://www.barrons.com/articles/stock-market-economy-investing-outlook-big-money-poll-51650659809?mod=hp_LEAD_1 (or go to https://resources.carsongroup.com/hubfs/WMC-Source/2022/04-25-22_Barrons_Bearish%20Now%2c%20Bullish%20Later_4.pdf)
https://www.barrons.com/articles/treasuries-real-yield-stocks-inflation-51650404673 (or go to https://resources.carsongroup.com/hubfs/WMC-Source/2022/04-25-22_Barrons_The%2010-Year%20Treasurys%20Real%20Yield%20Briefly%20Turned%20Positive_6.pdf)
https://www.bls.gov/news.release/pdf/empsit.pdf [Summary Table A]
https://navigatorresearch.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/Navigator-Toplines-02.23.2022.pdf [page 23]