The Federal Reserve has aggressively raised rates this year beginning in March – with 6 consecutive increases in the overnight target rate. The Fed has gone from 0% to 3.75% in eight months and is expected to increase rates another 50bps to 4.25% at its upcoming FOMC meeting on December 14th. Fed Fund futures markets expect a terminal rate of 5.06% by June 2023 – implying another 75bps are in the pipeline over the next six months.
Finally, a downward bias to the Consumer Price Index! That’s not to say that prices are contracting. In fact, taking it at face value, the inflation numbers are still too high. But the rate of increase is falling, which is welcome news for consumers. Core CPI, the measure that excludes food and energy, rose 6.3% year-over-year, falling from a year-over-year increase of 6.6% last month. On a month-over-month basis the measure rose 0.3%, down from 0.6% last month. That’s a welcome improvement and comes just in time for the Fed.
The short maturity fixed income market is offering the most attractive yield opportunity since before the financial panic of 2008, thanks to the Federal Reserve’s aggressive reversal of Fed Funds. We argue that the Fed has been forced into such an aggressive move by their years of ineptitude but, nevertheless, the move presents an attractive opportunity for investors to actually earn an attractive return on their cash. Prior to this year, the idea of 60/40 investing (a portfolio strategy of holding 60% of assets in equities and 40% in fixed income) had been supplanted by “forget bonds and buy the dip in stocks when their price corrects.” That strategy worked well prior to this year, but has proved catastrophic for portfolios this year, with the selloff in the darlings of the retail market, namely FANG stocks. All are down double-digits in 2023, with META, the parent of Facebook, down 69% from its peak. The best performing of the group is Apple with a year-to-date loss of only 27%. Topping the FANG losses, Bitcoin, the favored trading vehicle of the more “sophisticated” retail traders has lost 75% of its value since last December. With the cryptocurrencies printing new lows as we write, we wonder what’s stopping Bitcoin from plumbing the depths below 10,000. It’s certainly not valuation, because it really doesn’t have any intrinsic value.
The Fed’s well publicized “leak” hinting that the Central Bank would raise the Fed Funds rate by 75 basis points this week, but that another hike of equal magnitude in December meeting was not a certainty proved at least partially correct. The committee did raise rates by 75 basis points and, with it, offered a new sentence to the statement: “In determining the pace of future increases in the target range, the committee will take into account the cumulative tightening of monetary policy…” It was a written acknowledgment that the committee realizes that they have already tightening aggressively and, importantly, policy change works with a lag. However, Chairman Powell’s tone 30 minutes later, at the post-meeting press conference, was decidedly hawkish. We weren’t the only managers to be fooled by the head fake. Bond traders immediately took rates higher. May 2023 Fed Fund futures had rallied to 4.805% on the day of the “leak,” but have since reversed and are closing out the week at 5.12%. Similarly, the 2-year note which traded down to recent low of 4.30% reversed violently and are closing out the week at roughly 4.71%, the high for the year.
Last week’s Fed leak that they would consider slowing the trajectory of rate hikes at the November 2nd FOMC meeting continued to dominate trading this week. Consensus seems to be developing that the recent softening of economic data will force them to temper their hawkishness and will raise the overnight rate 75 basis points next week and another 50 basis points in December. Reflecting that, the 5-year note fell to 4.06% before closing the week at 4.18%, on the back of a stellar auction on Wednesday. The auction cleared at 4.192%, through the presale when-issued yield of 4.21. The bid to cover rose to 2.48 times versus 2.27 times at the last auction, indicating that demand was high