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.

April 2022 – Monthly Commentary

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.

March 2022 – Monthly Commentary

The Halyard Reserve Cash Management (RCM) strategy has encountered an unprecedented sixth consecutive monthly loss. While we are not happy with the string of losses, our conservative positioning has mitigated the downside relative to many of our peers. Since October 1, 2021, the RCM composite has generated a -0.42% loss. Comparatively, PIMCO’s MINT has lost -1.51% and Blackrock’s NEAR has lost 0.82% since October 1st. The loss for the Bloomberg Aggregate Bond Index, the flagship benchmark for the broad fixed income market is down 5.93% for Q1 2022. The loss has accelerated into the second quarter with the Aggregate now down 8.04% YTD thru April 12th.

Losses are unusual for short maturity fixed income portfolios and have been directly influenced by the sharp and steady selloff in the 2-year Treasury note. Since October 1st, the yield-to-maturity of the 2-year note has risen from approximately 0.30% to as high 2.50% earlier this month. The Federal Reserve has been the driver of the sharp rise in short maturity rates. As recently as November, the Fed had assured market participants that the uptick in inflation would prove transitory. Then the Central bank abruptly changed the narrative and communicated that interest rates would need to rise to battle inflation. Since then, the “drumbeat” of forecasted rate rises has gotten louder, and the committee has strongly suggested that there would be a 50 basis point hike at the May 4th FOMC meeting and, likely another 50 basis point at the June 15th meeting, with more to come this year.

February 2022 – Monthly Commentary

The February 24 invasion of Ukraine by Russia has resulted in heightened volatility as bid/ask spreads have widened and liquidity has dried up. President Biden’s decision to punish Russia’s aggression by halting purchases of Russian fossil fuel has caused the price of a barrel of crude oil sky-rocket. West Texas Intermediate briefly touched $130 a barrel on March 7th before settling in around $106 a barrel at the time of this writing. The rise in oil is having a direct impact, as one would expect, on gas prices. While the general population is aware of the dislocations in the capital markets, the rise in the price of gasoline is a direct hit to their wallet and one that has the average citizen worried. Economic forecasters are attempting to back into the price of a gallon of gasoline should the Russian oil ban become a sustained policy, and their forecasts are frightening. Estimates are as high as $150 to $200 per barrel of oil with gasoline topping out at $8 to $10 per gallon. Should the price of a gallon of gas rise to that level, we’re fairly confident that the U.S. economy will be in a recession. As it is, the Atlanta Federal Reserve’s GDP calculator is forecasting 0.041% economic growth in Q1 2022. We wonder how the investing public is going to react to 0% economic growth after enjoying 6 quarters of “eye-popping” economic growth fueled by emergency COVID stimulus. The first estimate of that growth comes at the end of April so we have plenty to worry about between now and then.

January 2022 – Monthly Commentary

Without a doubt, the Federal Reserve should have raised the overnight interest rate interest rate today, February 10th. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) released the January inflation report and, again, it shocked to the upside. Consensus expectation was that prices would have risen 7.3% year-over-year. Instead, prices rose 7.5% over last year’s basket. The Fed has 2% as their stated target for inflation and when inflation began to exceed that target last year they revised the mandate somewhat to say 2%, on average, given the vagaries of the economic cycle.

Parsing the individual components of the inflation report, the only category that did not exceed 2% was education, rising 1.7% for the year. At the opposite side of the spectrum, energy was up 27%, and the gasoline subcomponent was up 40% compared to last year. For the same period, new car prices rose 12.2% and used car prices rose a whopping 40.5%.