Though it was a holiday shortened week in the U.S., there was plenty of action in the markets. The most significant market-moving news was the Retail Sales report for December. Recall that November retail sales were disappointing, worrying analysts that the holiday selling season was going to be a bust. That worry proved prescient! Retail sales for November were revised down from -0.6% to -1.0% from the October level. On Wednesday the government reported that December retail sales fell -1.1% from the revised November figure. Parsing through the details, the weakness was broad-based, with sales at department stores falling a shocking 6.6% from November’s level.
The December CPI report released on Thursday was a pleasant surprise for investors. The headline CPI fell -0.1% month-over-month, and the year-over-year measure fell to 6.5% from 7.1% the previous month. Core CPI, the measure that excludes food and energy, rose 0.3% over the previous month, a slight uptick from the 0.2% previously reported. Core CPI has fallen to 5.7% year-over-year from the peak of 6.6% reported last September. The market breathed a sigh of relief as witnessed by the massive rally in the long bond on the day of the release, closing nearly two points above the previous day’s close. We suspect that much of the rally was driven by short covering, driving the yield-to-maturity down below 3.6%. At that yield level it’s hard to justify buying from a fundamental perspective.
Today’s bond market action is not what one would expect given the release of the December jobs report. The report showed the economy created 223,000 new jobs, again exceeding the 203,000 that was expected. Parsing further through the report, the unemployment rate fell to 3.5%, a record low, and the participation rate increased, meaning that more people joined the workforce and even more of them found work. At first glance, this is not the outcome that the Fed was hoping for. They are trying to cool the economy and the employment situation is actually further heating it up. But bond traders chose instead to focus on the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) Services survey.
We’re delighted to communicate that the Halyard Reserve Cash Management (RCM) composite generated a positive net return of 0.72% for 2022. During a year in which nearly every risk asset fell in value, we are delighted with that outcome. That’s not to say that the composite didn’t suffer some interim mark-to-market losses as the Federal Reserve defied expectations and raised the overnight lending rate by 400 basis points. The composite endured an unprecedented six mark-to-market losing months last year despite the Halyard team’s highly conservative duration management.
We had a feeling the government economists wouldn’t let 2022 get away without a little post-FOMC volatility. A summation of the economic releases this week is that the housing market stinks, inflation continues to be a problem, and consumer confidence ticked up last month. We’re skeptical of that last point. Both the Conference Board and the University of Michigan showed an uptick in confidence despite the continued array of layoff announcements. Our conclusion is that the uptick is directly correlated to the drop in gas prices and nothing more.
As expected, the Federal Reserve and the European Central Bank both raised overnight interest rates this week, and both delivered a hawkish prepared statement but softened the language in the post-conference press conference. At the press conference Powell said that rate-hike speed is no longer the most important question, now that the top of the Fed Funds target range is 4.5%. We interpret that as meaning that the days of 75-basis point hikes are behind us and that the possibility of a pause at the February meeting is now possible. Christine Lagarde also communicated that another 75-basis point hike is unlikely, but with the ECB overnight rate sitting at 2.5%, she is not likely to garner the same inflation-fighting stature as Powell.