Through April, the capital markets took the Fed’s hawkish tone as a welcome antidote to stubbornly high inflation. But as we move further into the year, that mindset has reversed. Driving the change is the barrage of weak earnings reports we’ve seen over the past two weeks, and specifically retail earnings. Amazon, Walmart and Target were the worst of the category, all having their stock price fall by more than 20%. The overriding culprit has been rising costs of goods sold cutting into their bottom line. That was more than enough to undercut the fledgling return of investors confidence we saw as we closed out last week. For this week the S&P 500 is down more than 4% and trading at its lowest level since March 2021.
Chairman Powel left the first in-person FOMC press conference in two years as a G.O.A.T. (greatest of all time), according to the investment media and suffered the fate of a spring lamb the very next day. For those unfamiliar with the term “spring lamb,” myself included, it’s a lamb slaughtered before it reaches its first birthday. Apologies for the grim analogy. On Wednesday investors were delighted that Powell had driven home the point that a 75 basis point rate hike was not forthcoming and cheered by his general tone of confidence. However, by the next morning the relief had been replaced by anxiety that stagflation is on its way, stock prices are too high and the yield curve too flat. From the Wednesday’s high to the Friday low, the S&P 500 tumbled more than 5.5%. Equally vicious was the selloff in the 30-year. On Thursday, the long bond fell nearly 3 ½ points before retracing about half of that by the close. To put that price action into perspective, the current long bond (2 ¼% 2/2052) is trading at a price less than 82, down from its issue price of 100 in February. The yield-to-maturity calculates to 3.20%, offering a real return of about -5.00%. Moreover, with the latest selloff, the 2-year/30-year yield curve has steepened 51 basis points since April 1st. Typically, the yield curve steepens when market participants believe the Fed is losing the inflation battle.
Last week investors were delighted that the Fed only raised interest rates 50 basis points and Fed Chairman Powell drove home the point that a 75 basis point hike was not forthcoming. However, by the next morning, the relief had been replaced by anxiety that stagflation is on its way, stock prices are too high and the yield curve too flat. Since the announcement, the S&P 500 has tumbled sharply, joining bonds in the year-to-date bear market. The current long bond (2 ¼ % 2/15/2052) is trading at a price of about 82, down from its issue price of 100 in February. At a dollar price of 82, the yield-to-maturity calculates to 3.20%, offering a real interest rate (Treasury rate – inflation rate) of about -5.00%. Moreover, with the latest selloff, the 2-year/30-year yield curve has steepened approximately 45 basis points since April 1st. Typically, the yield curve steepens when market participants believe the Fed is losing the inflation battle.
Last week we flagged the advance report of Q1 GDP as the economic report to watch this week, and we were spot on. Investors were shocked to learn that economic activity contracted 1.5% in the first quarter, driven primarily by trade and government spending. On the bright side, the consumer continued to spend, with the personal consumption measure rising 4.7% over Q1 2021. But a big expansion in imports and reduced government handouts were more than enough to offset the gain in consumption.