All About the Fed: Don’t Fight It
The market’s roller coaster ride during the third quarter was certainly one of steep inclines and dramatic falls. The S&P 500 ended the quarter at a new low for this bear market after increasing almost 17% from its mid-June low. Interest rates, as represented by the 10-year Treasury, experienced a similar upward trajectory, increasing from a 3% yield at the end of the second quarter to around 3.80% at the end of the third quarter. There may be several reasons for this year’s market action, but the primary reason is the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) aggressive moves to lower inflation.
Why is the Fed so aggressive?
The Fed has a dual mandate of pursuing the economic goals of maximum employment and price stability and utilizes a variety of policy tools to achieve these mandates. The first mandate of maximum employment is not the issue at this point in the cycle. In reality, it is part of the price stability issue. Tight labor markets, too few employees, and continued demand have led to wage increases. The Fed’s main concern is the higher inflationary environment, not only in the United States but across the globe.
The Fed has undertaken the most aggressive interest rate hikes in modern history. Since March, the short-term rate set by the Fed has increased by 300 basis points (3%). At the most recent meeting, the Fed’s outlook indicated that there will be an additional 125 basis points (1.25%) increase before year-end with rates then stabilizing in 2023.
What is the Fed hoping to accomplish with these aggressive moves?
Strong demand in housing and labor has driven inflation higher through pricing power and limited supply, as well as excess liquidity measured by the growth in money supply. This spike was created by fiscal and monetary stimulus programs during the pandemic. The strength in housing, labor, and the excess liquidity have led to inflationary pressures not seen since the 1970s. We have discussed before that these three things are not the only triggers for higher inflation, but they are the ones the Fed can attempt to control with monetary policy. By aggressively raising rates and therefore tightening monetary policy, these three items should respond accordingly and lower the inflationary pressures.
Have the aggressive moves had any impact yet?
The increase in interest rates has influenced the housing market by higher mortgage rates, making housing less affordable. Pricing pressures, supply issues, and overall demand have begun to decline. Home prices, as represented by Case-Shiller, had the largest month-over-month decline in July since December 2011, and mortgage rates have increased to nearly 7% leading to more pressure on housing. The National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) Housing Market Index has fallen the last nine months and stands at the lowest level since May 2020. An additional component of housing inflation is rental prices. The month-over-month change in the National Rent Index appears to have rolled over and begun to decline during the last month. Rents were fairly flat to declining in 2020 due to the moratorium on rental evictions and lowered housing inflation. Once the moratorium lifted, rents spiked in 2021 and early 2022. While the peak in rental prices may be in, year-over-year rental prices will continue to increase housing inflation. The money supply growth has definitely rolled over from its high (almost 27%) in late 2021 to the current level of 4.11%. Money supply growth leads inflation. The dramatic decline in the rate of money supply growth should also lead to inflation rolling over. The impact on labor and employment is not as evident yet. Employment is a lagging indicator and typically does not roll over until the economy has dramatically slowed down or moved into a recession. While there have not been any economic releases that demonstrate slowing, there have been announcements by the largest technology companies that they are cutting costs and staff. This is the first sign of the impact of the aggressive moves by the Fed in the labor market.
Has the Fed done enough, or should it continue on this aggressive tightening path?
Historically, it has taken approximately three to six months for the impact of a tightening action to show in the economy. We are only six months into this cycle, and the economy is just now seeing the impact of the first 75 basis point (0.75%) increases in March and May. Since then, there has been an additional 225 basis point increase, and the impact still needs to work through the system. When asked, Chair Powell stated, “that the mandate to lower inflation to 2% is the main objective and they will continue to be aggressive even if it means the economy moves into a recession.” If the Fed continues this aggressive track, the risk of recession, and a deeper recession, increases for 2023 – if the economy is not already there. The economic landscape has already slowed from post-pandemic levels in the United States and worldwide. The aggressive increase in domestic interest rates has led to a strong dollar negatively impacting earnings for corporations with international exposure. Commodity prices have rolled over as global economies slowed and the dollar strengthened. Taking all of this into consideration, it may behoove the Fed to slow down the pace of hikes and monitor where the economy and inflation go over the next three months. The Fed has been criticized for waiting too long to begin this tightening cycle. It is now afraid of being wrong and repeating the 1970s and appears willing to err on the side of risking recession.
Looking into the next quarter, unless the Fed pivots, or slows, or pauses its projected moves, the markets may continue to be volatile and subject to lower levels. The “don’t fight the Fed” advice works in both directions. This certainly has held true this year, and future market moves will depend on Fed action. Bear markets are never a pleasant experience. However, they do come to an end, and long-term investors will reap the rewards for staying the course. It is almost impossible to time a market. To do it, you need to make two decisions: when to sell and when to buy back in. It is quite challenging to time both of those accurately.
It is beneficial for investors to take a step back during these volatile times and remind themselves of their longterm goals. Investing in a suitable investment allocation is the long-term driver of returns, and a diversified