S&P 500 rallies as Fed tightens

Stocks rallied, with the S&P 500 recovering above thew former primary support level at 4300. Follow-through above 4400 would be a short-term bull signal.

S&P 500

Markets were lifted by reports of progress on a Russia-Ukraine peace agreement — although that is unlikely to affect sanctions on Russia this year — while the Fed went ahead with “the most publicized quarter point rate hike in world history” according to Julian Brigden at MI2 Partners.

FOMC

The Federal Reserve on Wednesday approved its first interest rate increase in more than three years, an incremental salvo to address spiraling inflation without torpedoing economic growth. After keeping its benchmark interest rate anchored near zero since the beginning of the Covid pandemic, the policymaking Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) said it will raise rates by a quarter percentage point, or 25 basis points….. Fed officials indicated the rate increases will come with slower economic growth this year. Along with the rate hikes, the committee also penciled in increases at each of the six remaining meetings this year, pointing to a consensus funds rate of 1.9% by year’s end. (CNBC)

Rate hikes are likely to continue at every meeting until the economy slows or the Fed breaks something — which is quite likely. To say the plumbing of the global financial system is complicated would be an understatement and we are already seeing reports of yield curves misbehaving (a negative yield curve warns of recession).

Federal Reserve policymakers have made “excellent progress” on their plan for reducing the central bank’s nearly $9 trillion balance sheet, and could finalize details at their next policy meeting in May, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said on Wednesday. Overall, he said, the plan will look “familiar” to when the Fed last reduced bond holdings between 2017 and 2019, “but it will be faster than the last time, and of course it’s much sooner in the cycle than last time.” (Reuters)

The last time the Fed tried to shrink its balance sheet, between 2017 and 2019, it caused repo rates (SOFR) to explode in September 2019. The Fed was panicked into lending in the repo market and restarting QE, ending their QT experiment.

SOFR

QT

Equities are unlikely to be fazed by initial rate hikes but markets are highly sensitive to liquidity. A decline in the Fed’s balance sheet would be mirrored by a fall in M2 money supply.

M2 Money Supply/GDP & Fed Total Assets/GDP

And a similar decline in stocks.

S&P 500 & Fed Total Assets

Ukraine & Russia

Unfortunately, Ukrainian and French officials poured cold water on prospects of an early ceasefire.

Annmarie Horden

Neil Ellis

Samuel Ramani

Conclusion

Financial markets were correct not be alarmed by the prospect of Fed rate hikes. The real interest rate remains deeply negative. But commencement of quantitative tightening (QT) in May is likely to drain liquidity, causing stocks to decline.

Relief over prospects of a Russia-Ukraine ceasefire and/or any reductions in sanctions is premature.

The bear market is likely to continue.

Biden needs to double down on banking oversight

Crony capitalism at its worst.

Banks and the coal-mining industry, with the help of lobbyists, blocked Joe Biden’s appointment of Sarah Bloom Raskin — a former deputy Treasury Secretary and member of the Fed board during the Obama years — as the Fed’s primary regulator to oversee the banking industry.

Sen. Patrick J. Toomey (R-Pa.) and other GOP lawmakers have attacked her view that the Fed should do more to mitigate the financial risks of climate change, including by potentially changing the way it regulates energy producers. (Washington Post)

Democrat Senator Joe Manchin’s opposition was the final straw, adding to the Republican stonewall. Manchin’s West Virginia constituency boasts a strong coal mining industry and the Senator is heavily supported by coal-mining donors.

March 15 (Reuters) – Sarah Bloom Raskin on Tuesday withdrew as President Joe Biden’s nominee to become the top bank regulator at the Federal Reserve, one day after a key Democratic senator and moderate Republicans said they would not back her, leaving no path to confirmation by the full Senate.

“Despite her readiness — and despite having been confirmed by the Senate with broad, bipartisan support twice in the past — Sarah was subject to baseless attacks from industry and conservative interest groups,” Biden said in a statement.

Raskin had become the most contentious of Biden’s five nominees to the central bank’s Board of Governors, generating strong opposition from the outset from Republicans who said she would use the vice chair of supervision post to steer the Fed toward oversight policies that would penalize banks who lend to fossil fuel companies.

Raskin had been favored by progressive Democrats, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, who had pushed Biden to install someone who would pursue stiffer banking oversight after regulatory rollbacks under the previous supervision czar, Randal Quarles.

Conclusion

Joe Biden’s administration should not be deterred from appointing a tough regulator to oversee the banking industry. Many bankers would argue the opposite — that the economy would benefit from light regulation of the industry — but their track record says otherwise.

The banking industry is one of the key vulnerabilities in an already fragile financial system. Failure to effectively regulate them would risk another financial crisis, especially with current global volatility.

Fed way too slow, way too late | Wolf Richter

“This most reckless Fed ever has had some kind of come-to-Jesus-moment late last year when it did acknowledge the problem it had set off. And now it’s trying to act way too slowly, way too late, and way too timidly to break up this spiral without causing the whole house of cards – the magnificent asset bubbles everywhere – that its money-printing and interest-rate repression created to come crashing down all at once.”

~ Wolf Richter, Wolfstreet

S&P 500: Small caps diverge

The S&P 500 ($INX) remains bullish, with Trend Index holding above zero for over a year indicating tremendous buying pressure.

S&P 500

Narrow breadth is our main concern, with the Russell 2000 small caps ETF (IWM) diverging from the S&P 500 ($INX).

S&P 500 & Russell 2000 Small Caps

Conclusion

The market is growing risk-averse as the Fed starts to taper. But financial markets are still awash with cash.

M2/GDP

Buying is likely to be concentrated in the heavyweights.

Apple (AAPL), Alphabet (GOOGL), Amazon (AMZN), Meta Platforms (FB), and Microsoft (MSFT)

Small caps could possibly accelerate into a down-trend but reversal of large cap indices is unlikely with so much liquidity.

David Woo: Prelude to volatility

The bond market had a heart attack last week. Rising inflation caused a massive back up in bond yields in the short end of the market. The market is now pricing in two rate hikes in 2022. The Fed will have to raise real interest rates in order to tame inflation.

Real interest rates are falling. The stock market is taking its cue from the bond market and is rising. Stock prices represent discounted future cash flows, so negative real interest rates make a big difference to earnings multiples.

The Democrats are determined to spend their way to a mid-term election victory, with a $1T infrastructure bill and $1.75T social spending, both light on tax revenue. The GOP will try to stop them when the debt ceiling issue returns in December but they don’t have much leverage.

Financial conditions will have to tighten a lot more in 2022. The Fed is way behind the curve and is going to have to play catch-up.

Conclusion

Inflationary pressures in the US economy are growing, while the Democrats plan a further $2.75T in fiscal stimulus which is light on tax revenues.

Long-term yields lag far behind inflation, with real interest rates growing increasingly negative. The assumption is that the Fed will tighten sharply in 2022 to curb inflation. We expect that the Fed will taper but is not going to rush to hike interest rates for three reasons:

  1. The Fed would be tightening into a slowing economy, with growth fading as stimulus winds down;
  2. High energy prices will also help to cool demand; and
  3. US federal debt levels — already > 120% of GDP and likely to grow further with proposed new stimulus measures — are a greater long-term threat than inflation. The Fed and Treasury are expected to work together to boost GDP and tax revenues through inflation, keeping real interest rates negative to alleviate the cost to Treasury of servicing the excessive debt burden.

Deconstructing Evergrande’s effect on China

Elliot Clarke at Westpac says that China will be able to withstand the shock of Evergrande’s collapse and that power outages are a bigger threat.

We still think that the property sector contagion is part of a broader issue that China will struggle to overcome, as Michael Pettis succinctly explained:

China’s debt problem

Tweeted by Prof. Michael Pettis:

In the past — e.g. the SOE reforms of the 1990s, the banking crisis of the 2000s, SARS in 2003, the collapse of China’s trade surplus in 2009, COVID, etc. — whenever China faced a problem that threatened the pace of its economic growth, Beijing always responded by accelerating debt creation and pumping up property and infrastructure investment by enough to maintain targeted GDP growth rates. It didn’t adjust, in other words, but rather goosed growth by exacerbating the underlying imbalances.

That is why it had always been “successful” in seeing off a crisis. But when the main problem threatening further growth becomes soaring debt and the sheer amount of non-productive investment in property and infrastructure, it is obvious, or should be, that accelerating debt creation and pumping up property and infrastructure investment can no longer be a sustainable solution. All this can do is worsen the underlying imbalances and raise further the future cost of adjustment.

RBA tapers

From Bill Evans at Westpac:

The Governor of the Reserve Bank has announced the intention to reduce the weekly purchases from $5 billion to $4 billion and not to extend its Yield Curve Target from the April 2024 bonds to the November 2024 bonds – two clear signs that policy is tightening…..

The decision to not extend the Yield Curve Target program to the November 2024 bonds….Giving up the option to extend the purchases at 0.1% to a 3 year 4 month bond from a 2 year 9 month bond, is effectively tightening policy.

Deflationistas and base effects

Deflationistas like respected economist David Rosenberg point to a sharp decline in bank credit over the past 12 months as evidence of deflation.

By the end of April, commercial bank loans and leases had declined by $510 billion, or 4.7% of total, over the past 12 months.

Commercial Banks: Loans & Leases

That would be cause for concern but it does not take into account the massive $742 billion surge in lending in the preceding two months, March-April 2020, when borrowers drew on lines of credit to ensure that they had sufficient liquidity during the pandemic. They were afraid that banks would withdraw credit facilities in anticipation of widespread corporate defaults.

Commercial Banks: Loans & Leases

Conclusion

There is no credit contraction.

Bank credit did shrink by $510 billion in the past 12 months but this followed an unusual $742 billion surge in credit as borrowers drew on credit facilities to ensure liquidity during the first two months of the pandemic. What we have witnessed is the normalization of bank credit, with borrowers repaying credit temporarily drawn at the height of the liquidity crunch.

We expect normal credit growth to resume.