The Fed Just Predicted a Fairly Lousy Economy–and the Markets Noticed
The Federal Reserve (Fed) announced on Sept. 21 that it raised interest rates by 75 basis points (bps), or three-quarters of a percentage point.
The decision came a day after the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta dropped its much-watched estimate of third-quarter 2022 GDP (“GDP Now”) to just 0.3 percent on Sept. 20, after residential fixed investment disappointed, printing at -1.28 percent, when the Atlanta Fed had anticipated it to print at +0.3 percent. (Move the cursor over each bar, here, to see the interplay of the “GDP Now” elements.)
The 75 basis-point interest rate increase was largely priced into the market, and most observers expected it. Some anticipated—and feared—a 100 basis-point hike, or 1 percent. Moving, the market responded negatively to the rate hike, and the Dow Jones Industrials Average fell by 1.7 percent. The benchmark S&P 500 Index fell the same percentage amount.
It appears that what troubled the market was the Fed’s disappointing so-called “dot plots,” formally the “Summary of Economic Projects,” also released on Sept. 21, which is prepared by members of the Federal Open Market Committee, the Fed’s policy-making arm, and their staffs.
The dot plots are basically prognostications as to the future direction of the economy at year-end in the current and three future years and for the longer term, analyzing gross domestic product (GDP), unemployment, inflation, and rates.
None of the projects are good. As seen in the rightmost set of columns, the range of GDP went from negative 0.3 percent in 2023 to 2.6 percent 2024. What’s called the “central tendency,” where most of the estimates tend to be (the three highest and the three lowest are thrown out)—and the best estimate, in my view—showed GDP growth of no more than 2 percent.
I cannot help but think that even the central tendency range of estimates are sanguine. I suspect that inflation will have a longer tail than the 2023/2024 declines that the central tendency would indicate. I expect that a federal funds rate, the rate the Fed charges member banks, will need to be in the range of 5–6 percent to ramp down the rate of inflation, especially if job strength (which we attribute mostly to a low labor participation rate) continues. (The 5–6 percent we think necessary is the rate to keep inflation stable at the Fed’s preferred 2 percent rate; it’s what Fed watchers call the “terminal rate.”)
The other aspect of bringing down inflation is reducing the Fed’s balance sheet. While the Fed has increased the “burn-off” of Fed assets to $95 billion this month, we have long felt that amount was insufficient. The assets—comprised of Treasuries and mortgage-backed securities (MBS)—can be sold instead of “burned off.” Fed Chair Jerome Powell did not rule out the possibility, at least for MBS, but not at this time, he said. Selling off the MBS would reduce the balance of cash in the economy, which creates some liquidity risk, but also reduces inflation.
One aspect of the continuing rate hikes will be that the US dollar will continue to dominate the currency markets. For multinationals, that will cause reduced earnings from overseas as the earnings are translated. As we wrote earlier this week, companies like Federal Express will suffer these kinds of translation losses as well as margin pressure.
We refise our GDP estimate for this quarter to -0.5 percent.
Disclosure: The views expressed, including the outcome of future events, are the opinions of the firm and its management only as of Sept. 21, 2022, and will not be revised for events after this document was submitted to The Epoch Times editors for publication. Statements herein do not represent, and should not be considered to be, investment advice. You should not use this article for that purpose. This article includes forward looking statements as to future events that may or may not develop as the writer opines. Before making any investment decision you should consult your own investment, business, legal, tax, and financial advisers. We associate with principals of Technometrica on survey work in some elements of our business.
We have no stock, option, or similar derivative position in any of the mentioned companies, and have no plans to initiate any such positions within the next 72 hours. I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from The Epoch Times as a business columnist). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.