February 2023 – Monthly Commentary

With the events of the last few days, February seems like a distant memory. More importantly, it was yet another test of the integrity of the Reserve Cash Management strategy, and it performed as designed. As we have espoused, the emphasis of the RCM is broad diversification and an emphasis on liquidity, and that has served our investors well during the crisis. We’ve emphasized that to keep any more than $250,000 in a bank account is to make an unsecured loan to that institution. The RCM is a strategy that holds the securities in the name of the client, in a separately managed account, at a qualified custodian, thereby eliminating counterparty risk.

January 2023 – Monthly Commentary

January was a peculiar month in that the New Year kicked off with a general feeling of malaise in terms of market sentiment stemming from what proved to be a disappointing holiday selling season. The stock market commenced the year trading at the December low as economic data continued to disappoint. The Fed, reacting to the string of weak Q4 economic reports and continued stubborn inflation readings, communicated that they would reduce the magnitude of rate hikes again from 50- to 25-basis points. In holding to their word, they did so at their February 1st meeting. Moreover, the committee members loosely suggested that the peak of the rate would reach 5% and not the 5.25% to 5.50% they communicated just 3 months earlier. That change in messaging succeeded in boosting investor concerns as witnessed in both stock prices and bond yields. The 30-year kicked off 2023 yielding 3.96%, only to close the month at 3.63%, as investors fretted that the economy was on the verge of recession and the Fed would be forced to cut rates later this year. Paradoxically, equity indices rallied for the same reason. The S&P 500 gained more than 6% for the month. While still more than 15% below the all-time high touched in December 2021, the index has rallied nearly 20% off of the 2022 low touched last October.

December 2022 – Monthly Commentary

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.

November 2022 – Monthly Commentary

Judging by the November Consumer Price Index, the Fed’s harsh medicine of higher interest rates is starting to work. While year-over-year CPI still rose 7.1% last month, that’s down from 7.7% in October, and the 0.1% month-over-month increase is exactly what the Fed has been expecting. While the November Producer Price index came in higher than expected, that measure of inflation takes a back seat to CPI in that some of those price pressures can be absorbed by margin compression at the corporate level. The CPI, on the other hand, directly impacts consumers and risks the spiral effect in which consumers expect prices to continue to rise into the foreseeable future.

October 2022 – Monthly Commentary

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.

September 2022 – Monthly Commentary

As of late, there has been little for the Fed to celebrate. The all-important employment report has been relegated to second tier status as the Producer and Consumer inflation measures take center stage as the most important measure of the Fed’s success. With the release of the September report, the Fed’s efforts this year represent a distinct failure. Both measures came in above expectations and didn’t really offer any indication that the rate hikes to date have been successful. The markets reacted mostly as expected. The 30-year bond, after a brief short covering rally on the day of the CPI release is trading just above 4.00%. Similarly, the 2-year note is trading just below 4.50%. Fed Fund futures reset materially higher, with the May 2023 contract indicating a peak Fed Funds rate of 4.93%.

August 2022 – Monthly Commentary

The August CPI report was a shocker in that the expectation was for inflation to finally drift lower. In fact, the report confirmed that inflation continues to run at an elevated pace and the Fed’s raising of short-term interest rates is doing little to quell the uptick. To put it into perspective, the year-over-year rate of inflation last August was an already an elevated 5.25%. At the time, the Federal Reserve wrongly assured investors that inflation was transitory, and they didn’t need to adjust monetary policy because in short order the uptick would pass. Recall, at the time Chairman Powell was up for renomination and, we suspect, reluctant to do anything to battle rising prices, fearing that to do so would torpedo his chances for renomination. From our perspective, he had done a lousy job and should not have been renominated, but that did not come to pass.

July 2022 – Monthly Commentary

The S&P 500 has recovered from its early summer swoon and is currently trading midway between the high and low print for the last year, supported by the two most recent economic wayposts. The July employment report and the consumer price index (CPI), were both better than investors had forecast, indicating that the Fed may not need to be as aggressive in tightening policy as thought just a month ago.

Following a mixed June employment report, the July tally blew past all expectations. Coming in at 528,000 new jobs added, the report more than doubled the consensus expectation of 250,000 and exceeded the highest expectation of 325,000. Moreover, the details were equally eye popping, with average hourly earnings up 5.2%, year-over-year, and the unemployment rate ticking down to 3.5%, equaling the low touched on September 2019. The bond market didn’t like any of it. The yield curve that placidly drifted below 3% recently, convulsed back above that measure on the day. Month to date, the 2-year note is 30 basis points higher, and the 2-year/30-year interest rate spread went negative for the second time this year.

June 2022 – Monthly Commentary

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.

May 2022 – Monthly Commentary

Market turmoil has reached a fevered pitch as investors continue to digest the May inflation reports. Headline year-over-year CPI for May came in at 8.6% versus the consensus estimate of 8.3%, and the ex-food and energy tally came in at 6.0%, a touch above the survey estimate of 5.9%. Contributing to the unease was the University of Michigan survey, a popular coincident indicator of consumer sentiment. The overall sentiment tally plunged to 50 versus 58 last month, and the inflation expectation component for the coming year ticked up to 5.4%. That’s a clear message to Messer’s Biden and Powell of no confidence in their inflation fighting prowess. The market rection to the news has been brutal, with the 2-year Treasury note trading as high as high as 3.43%. Similarly, the S&P 500 is now 22% off the January high.