Market Insights Podcast – 30 MAY 2022
The minutes of the Fed’s May meeting highlighted that “Looking at the stock market is an important price signal, just like many other signals need to be observed. This is a period of uncertainty. It has been a tough week in the stock market. What we are looking for is to convey our policies through market understanding, and tightening should be expected, which is one of the ways to tighten financial conditions. Now that the inflation rate is too high, we need to make a series of interest rate adjustments to reduce inflation. We do see that the financial environment is beginning to tighten so I think that is something for us to observe carefully. It is difficult to know exactly how much tightening is needed. Raising interest rates by 50 basis points is appropriate, and the plan to shrink the Fed’s USD8.9 trillion balance sheet will help tighten policy. It will be my real focus to be careful to make sure that we stay in the right direction, incorporate some of these interest rate increases into the economy and then watch how they develop.” Most participants agreed to raise interest rates by 50 basis points in June and July, the target range of the federal funds rate will reach 1.75% by July. Yet, some officials worried that raising interest rates to combat inflation could undermine the Fed’s ability to keep unemployment at historically low levels.
The Fed is trying to rein in high inflation and plans to bring it down to its target of 2%. The Fed’s tough monetary policy stance has triggered fears of a recession in the United States and triggered a sell-off in the stock market. The data now showed that the U.S. economy is still strong. Moreover, U.S. wholesale inventory data also showed a good economic outlook. The monthly rate of wholesale inventory in the United States in April was 2.1%, which was expected to be 2% and the previous value was 2.3%. The U.S. wholesale inventory data reflects changes in the total value of items in wholesalers’ inventories, which are temporarily idle resources to meet future needs; wholesalers act as intermediaries between manufacturers / importers and retailers, its inventory situation can be used as one of the leading indicators of the economy and the rapid growth of wholesale inventory shows that wholesalers are optimistic about the economic prospect. Still, there is a risk of a slowdown in U.S. household consumption because gasoline prices are now back at all-time highs and grocery bills have a greater impact on the budget.
Another key data point released last week, the U.S. April Personal Consumption Expenditures (PCE) price index, a measure that Fed policy makers are most concerned about, rose 6.3% in April from a year earlier, with an expected value of 6.2% and a previous month at 6.6%. The core PCE price index, which excludes food and energy prices, rose 4.9% year-over-year, in line with forecast and a previous month at 5.2%. The slowdown in inflation in April was mainly driven by falling gasoline and other energy prices. Many forecasters believe that headline inflation peaked in March and will begin to cool down in April, yet the recent rebound in natural gas prices is likely to complicate the situation. Even if inflation continues to fall, prices are still rising much faster than the 2% target set by the Fed.
U.S. Treasuries have recently regained popularity as investors worry that the Fed’s aggressive tightening of monetary policy to curb inflation could trigger a recession, with yields falling from multi-year highs. The two-year bond yield, seen as a market indicator of the U.S. federal funds rate, has fallen sharply after hitting a more than three-year high of 2.85% earlier this month and is now around 2.48%. At present, the Fed’s target range for the federal funds rate is 0.75% to 1.0%. The yield on two-year Treasuries is less than 1.5% higher than the upper limit of that range. If the Fed raises interest rates by 50 basis points each as expected at the next two monetary policy meetings, the target range of the federal funds rate will reach 1.75% by July. The two-year Treasury yield continues to fall, it is likely to fall below the upper limit of that range by September, which would be a good time to expect the Fed to suspend tightening.
Traders in federal funds rate futures downgraded their expectations that the Fed would continue to raise interest rates after weaker-than-expected U.S. housing sales and first-quarter GDP correction. Stock market had a relief technical rebounded accordingly. Based on market pricing, the likelihood that the Fed will further raise its target range to 2.75% by the end of the year to 3% has fallen to 27% from 51% about a week ago. The Fed may suspend monetary tightening in September if there are signs of economic deterioration and cooling inflation. Recent remarks by Fed officials Mestre and Bostick made to people realize that financial market conditions may push the Fed to slow or even stop raising interest rates in September. If the two-year yield falls to 2%, the upper end of the expected target range of the federal funds rate after the Fed’s July meeting, the Fed is likely to strongly hint at suspending tightening. U.S. is now in a stagflation environment (8.5% inflation and 2-3% GDP growth), the economy will cool down and it is expected to fall into recession at the end of this year or early next year, and the Fed even needs to cut interest rates in 2023.
The Fed has been the main driver of the market decline. Inflation in the U.S. continues to put pressure on the market, while the results of the retail giants Target and Walmart may be a clue to the recession. Now that we have seen the S&P 500 touched 3,800 level intraday last week, reached a 20% correction from the peak, (a technical bear market level), the biggest question will be where to go next. At present, the market still has to absorb the ‘significant slowdown in growth’, which may mean that the market will continue to adjust. Shrinking the balance sheet or another lever to push up interest rates. This is another way for the Fed to hit the brakes to slow the economy and reduce inflation. Over time, this will be more influential than raising short-term interest rates. High inflation is eroding corporate profits. As inflation rises, household budgets are squeezed. The weakening of consumer demand has raised concerns about the future outlook for U.S. consumption and corporate profitability. Fuel and freight costs are rising and there is no sign that oil prices and freight costs will fall any time soon. More retailers may be forced to cut their projected profits for this year.
Can we still expect the Fed to ‘rescue the market’? Senior Fed officials said that they were watching the stock market but had no objection to the fall in the market. In fact, the market is helping the Fed to do their job. Powell wants the market to go down as consumers are still spending. We should worry about what is going to happen after 2022. The FOMC voting committee and chairman of the Kansas City Fed said that the ‘volatile performance of U.S. stocks over the past week’ was to be expected, partly reflecting the impact of monetary tightening. The market turmoil would not change the Fed’s austerity program. Wall Street seems to agree that U.S. stocks will fall as long as the Fed ‘does not hit the brakes’. Only the Fed’s signal to end monetary tightening can stop the sell-off in U.S. stocks and the Fed may not send this signal until the recession is already clear.
Net inflows of retail investors are near record highs, with retail investors buying USD76 billion worth of shares in the last three months. Meanwhile, retail investors’ portfolios have shrunk by an average of 32%. The S&P 500 has been on the brink of a bear market over the past week, yet retail investors have adopted a bargain-hunting strategy that has helped the index rebound quickly in a short period of time. The absence of additional selling pressure from institutions, large inflows from retail investors could be the main driver of the sharp rebound. U.S. stocks are approaching the ‘technology bear’ but the market is still not too panicking. Most indicators show that the market is still ‘calm’ and that a real bottom may not have been seen yet. The decline in the stock market has not been accompanied by a surge in trading volume, which is usually a sign of market capitulation when the market hits bottom. The Volatility Index (VIX) closed at 25.72, historically, when the fear index reached the level of 40-45, the market would fall sharply. So, when the panic index reaches 45, it means that the bottom is getting there.
Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest oil producer, warned at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland that most companies were afraid to invest in the oil industry under pressure from green lobbyists and that global oil supplies were facing a major tightening. Whether or not, there is a conflict between Russia and Ukraine, problems arising from a lack of investment in the industry, especially during the epidemic will emerge. Saudi Arabia also added that its inability to control the oil market means it has no plans to speed up oil production.
On the same occasion, the International Energy Agency said that the energy security crisis will never lead to increased global dependence on fossil fuels. With appropriate investment in renewable and nuclear energy, the world does not need to choose between energy shortages and climate change. The agency warned investors last year not to fund oil, gas and coal projects and the world is not expected to achieve net zero emissions until 2050. Davos attracted global attention, yet there was little consensus on resolving the energy crisis. In any case, it highlights the difficulties that the world faces in dealing with climate change. Geopolitics highlight the need to accelerate the global transition to new energy. At the same time, the reality of structural imbalances means that energy prices may remain high in the short to medium term.
In the short term, U.S. strategic oil reserves are likely to be depleted in the summer, industrial processes stalled because of severe shortages of oil products in some countries and fertilizer / food prices continue to hit records. All show that the global energy transformation is not a very easy task. By the end of March, U.S. crude oil ending inventories had fallen to their lowest level since 2007. Crude oil inventories of Saudi Arabia, a core member of OPEC, are also at a low level. The total demand level and total imports of India, a big oil demand country, as of March this year, are all near historical highs. The total demand is the second highest on record, Japan’s crude oil imports, another big oil demand, hit a 23-month high in March. Last week, most of the oil giants reached their historical high market capitalization value. Exxon Mobil Corp, founded in 1870, is headquartered in Texas, is the world’s largest non-governmental owned oil and gas producer. ConocoPhillips, founded in 1875, is the largest independent exploration and production company in the world.
Global Food Crisis: Turkey is engaged in discussions with Russia and Ukraine to establish a corridor to resume Ukrainian grain exports, a crucial step in ending a global food supply crisis. An estimated 20 million tons of grain are stuck in Ukraine, and the country is one of the world’s five largest exporters of wheat, corn and sunflower oil and meal, making it a staple of countries’ food supply globally. According to agricultural analysis corporation, world food reserves fall to their lowest level since 2008. Global wheat stocks cover only 10 weeks of consumption, the lowest level since the 2008 financial crisis, according to Gro Intelligence, an agricultural analysis firm. The urgent action is needed to deal with the growing threat of hunger. Soaring crop prices have put millions of people at risk, while drought and soaring fertiliser prices are likely to further reduce food supplies. This is not a cyclical event and could greatly reshape the geopolitical era.
We are concerned about the skyrocketing prices of nitrogen and potassium fertilizers since the beginning of the war. Russia and Belarus, respectively, are the second- and third-largest exporters of potash used to make potassium fertilizer (Canada is the largest producer). Nitrogen fertilizer is made from natural gas. Natural gas prices are up a lot. High fertilizer prices will lead to significant increase in prices of all calories, from corn to avocados to meat.
Food protectionism is on the rise in the developing world as governments try to safeguard local supplies and the effects are threatening to spill over into richer economies. Malaysia just announced a ban on chicken exports, causing consternation in Singapore, which gets a third of its supplies from there. India has moved to curb wheat and sugar shipments, Indonesia has limited palm oil sales and some other nations have issued grain quotas. The poorest countries are most vulnerable to surging food prices and shortages, yet wealthier economies are not immune. For example, almost 10 million British cut back on food in April amid a cost-of-living crisis. U.S. restaurants are shrinking the size of their portions, while France has pledged to issue food vouchers to some households. Around 30 countries have taken steps to restrict food exports since the start of the war in Ukraine, with agricultural protectionism at the highest level since the food price crisis in 2007 and 2008. Protectionism will definitely continue in 2022 and rise in the coming months, exacerbating food security risks for the world’s most vulnerable.
China’s Premier Li Keqiang steps up to issue economic warning. Economic indicators in China have fallen significantly and difficulties in some aspects and to a certain extent are greater than when the epidemic hit us severely in 2020, urging efforts to reduce a soaring unemployment rate. The nation’s surveyed jobless rate climbed to 6.1% in April, the highest since February 2020. Premier Li Keqiang held a meeting last week with local officials, state-owned enterprises and financial firms to discuss how to stabilize the economy. His remarks came after economists surveyed by Bloomberg forecast China’s economy will grow 4.5% this year, well below the government’s target of about 5.5%. Premier Li outlined 33 support measures to help businesses, including more than RMB 140 billion (USD21 billion) of additional tax cuts, and a cut on vehicle purchases taxes. Local governments were told to spend most of the proceeds from RMB 3.65 trillion of bonds used mainly for infrastructure by the end of August and more detailed instructions on how to implement those policies would be issued this month. The central bank and banking regulator also held a meeting with major financial institutions last week to urge them to boost loans. State media reported following the meeting that some banks had been handed specific quotas requiring them to accelerate loan growth.
Profits at China’s industrial firms fell at their fastest pace in 2 years in April as high raw material prices and supply chain chaos caused by Covid-19 curbs squeezed margins and disrupted factory activity. Profit shrank 8.5% from a year earlier, swinging from a 12.2% gain in March. The slump is the biggest since March 2020. The industrial sector has been hit hard by the stringent and widespread anti-virus measures that have shut factories and clogged highways and ports. We saw very weak activity growth last month as exports lost momentum and the property sector wobbled. This week, the PMI composite index is expected to record 42.7 in April, down 6.1% from the previous month. The lowest level in history except February 2020. Economic activities are expected to be repaired in May and the PMI index will be repaired gradually.
It seems China’s deteriorating economic outlook to be a drag on global growth – and we expect that consensus forecasts for China’s 2022 GDP growth are likely to get revised down. Meanwhile, we will have more volatility, we could even have bear market rebound, yet the time to buy the dip is not now. To turn more positive, we want to see dovish pivot from the Fed, yet to see that we will need clear signs of easing supply side pressure and inflationary pressure. That could happen given that a recent uptick in layoffs and a slowdown in new job postings could help tame wage inflation, which is a core driver of overall inflation readings. Yet, it is not now, potentially later in the year.
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