From an economic perspective, this has been a terrible week; especially so for the housing sector. The NAHB housing index, housing starts, and existing home sales all plunged, as did mortgage applications. The earnings release from D.R. Horton, the home builder, beat expectations, but the company said that sales are expected to slow, and cancelations rise as buyers are experiencing “payment shock.” After falling a quarter point last week, the average 30-year mortgage rate ticked back up to 5.625%, giving pause to perspective buyers.
Front end interest rate volatility remained elevated this week, with the market adding an additional 25bps increase in Fed funds post the record CPI print – January 2023 Fed Fund futures traded at a 3.49% rate a week ago, touched a 3.74% Thursday morning only to settle back to 3.50% by Friday afternoon. The shockingly high CPI print has been tempered by softer data. Headline retail sales point to a consumer muddling along – combatting higher energy prices by buying less elsewhere. The exceptions are restaurants, a slight bounce in vehicles and strength in online shopping. Overall real retail sales have fallen two months in a row. University of Michigan surveys released Friday showed a slight uptick in sentiment following June’s abysmal readings and also a slight downtick in longer term inflation expectations. The relief rally – data dispels fears of 100bps rate rise – leaves stocks up 1.7% on the day and off just 1% for the week.
Fed Governor Chris Waller “tipped his cards” on Thursday regarding this morning’s employment report, saying the “Robust labor market” gave him confidence in the strength of the economy. The report showed that the economy added 372,000 new jobs in June, well ahead of the 265,000 that was expected. Given the anecdotal weakness we’ve been witnessing, our expectation was that the jobs figure would disappoint. His comment on jobs was in addition to him saying that he favored another 75- basis point hike later this month. That rate hike recommendation was echoed by St. Louis Fed President James Bullard, and both are voters on the rate decision committee.
As expected, the Consumer Price Index (CPI) in June registered the highest inflation in 40 years. Year-over-year the rate of price appreciation of the CPI came in at 9.1%. In reviewing the details of the report, the source of the inflation is broad-based. Even more troubling, recent surveys indicate that consumer expectations for future inflation are climbing.
Earlier this month the jobless report showed that the economy added 372,000 new jobs in June, well ahead of the 265,000 that was expected. Given the anecdotal weakness we’ve been witnessing, our expectation was that the jobs figure would disappoint. Contradicting the headline number, the household survey showed a decline in the labor force of 353,000 jobs. As we’ve explained previously, the two measures are usually directionally in agreement, but not always.
As if the investing environment couldn’t be more challenging, this week only served to further muddy the water. Fed Chairman Powell testified before Congress in what was once referred to as the Humphrey-Hawkins testimony. The testimony is mandated twice a year and the Chairman is tasked with justifying his dual mandate of keeping unemployment and inflation low. His testimony was mostly comments Congressmen don’t want to hear. Namely, acknowledging that rising interest rates poses the risk of a recession, and that the employment market is running “too hot.” In the perverse thinking of bond investors that was good news. The logic goes that If the Fed Chairman is thinking that the coming rate hikes could result in a recession, then that means that inflation will be coming down faster than they had hoped and, therefore, rates will need to be cut sooner than anticipated. Taking their cue from bond investors, the stock jockeys interpreted that logic as a signal to buy, hence the 6% rise in the S&P 500 off the low touched last week. Notably, Powell didn’t say anything at the testimony that would indicate that the committee has changed their mind about raising rates another 75 basis points at the end of July.