Financial markets experienced a surge of optimism when the October Consumer Price Index (CPI) revealed that U.S. consumer prices had eased more than expected. As a result, Treasury yields dropped significantly as market participants anticipated that the Federal Reserve would refrain from increasing interest rates and may even consider reducing borrowing costs.
Looser Financial Conditions
In light of this development, financial conditions suddenly became looser, with the benchmark 10-year yield BX:TMUBMUSD10Y in New York afternoon trading reaching 4.46%, which represents a decrease of over half a percentage point from its peak in October. Will Compernolle, a macro strategist for FHN Financial in New York, noted that current conditions are now “much more accommodative” compared to when Fed officials initially suggested that higher long-term yields could substitute for tighter monetary policy and negate the need for a rate hike.
Implications for Central Bankers
There remains uncertainty regarding how much looser financial conditions will impact central bankers. During Tuesday’s session, both the 10-year yield and the policy-sensitive 2-year yield BX:TMUBMUSD02Y were on track to experience their largest single-day declines in over six months due to increased expectations for at least four Fed rate cuts by 2024.
According to New York-based advisory firm Evercore ISI, Tuesday’s CPI inflation report will be perceived favorably by the Fed. However, it also poses a challenge for the central bank as it seeks to manage market optimism and financial conditions effectively. Evercore’s Vice Chairman Krishna Guha and others emphasized the risk of the market racing ahead and provoking a more significant and premature easing of financial conditions than the Fed deems appropriate according to prudent upside inflation risk management principles. As a result, it is likely that Fed officials will maintain a cautious and relatively hawkish stance.
Despite the positive implications of the October CPI report, it is essential to exercise caution and avoid placing excessive weight on a single report. Thomas Barkin, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, expressed reservations about inflation’s trajectory toward the Fed’s target of 2%, despite progress made in curbing price pressures.
The financial markets have responded positively to the recent inflation data, but it remains to be seen how central bankers will navigate the resulting looser financial conditions. With uncertainties still prevailing, the Fed is expected to approach the situation with caution and maintain its vigilant stance.
Economists Remain Unyielding in Face of October’s Consumer-Inflation Report
Some economists argue that the recently released Consumer Price Index (CPI) report for October may not be as significant as the markets believe. Additionally, experts suggest that the Federal Reserve’s preferred inflation gauge, the personal consumption expenditure index (PCE), could influence the decisions made by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC). If the PCE shows “horizontal momentum” in the October data, some committee members may deem lower bond yields as a reason to increase the fed funds rate.
Analysis from Hirtle Callaghan & Co.
Brad Conger, Deputy Chief Investment Officer at Hirtle Callaghan & Co., a wealth management firm overseeing $18.5 billion in assets, supports the Fed’s cautious approach. Conger believes that the CPI figures for October validate the central bank’s “wait-and-see” stance. However, he notes that a sustained series of similar magnitudes would be required to instill enough confidence in policymakers to consider easing policy. Conger expressed concerns over the recent easing of financial conditions and energy prices potentially offsetting current restraints.
Alongside a general decline in Treasury yields, all three major U.S. stock indexes (DJIA, SPX, COMP) experienced gains as of Tuesday afternoon. The Dow Jones Industrial Average soared nearly 500 points due to a surge in buying activity. Investors also celebrated the low “supercore” inflation figure, which serves as an indicator for labor costs.
Fed Chairman’s Caution
Last week, Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell emphasized that the central bank remains cautious about transitory improvements in inflation. These improvements, known as “head fakes,” are temporary and tend to reverse over time.
Assessing the CPI Data
Lawrence Gillum, a fixed-income strategist for LPL Financial based in Charlotte, North Carolina, believes that the Federal Reserve’s response will depend on whether the October CPI data represents a true reflection of the underlying trend or if it is merely a “head fake.” If the former is true, the Fed may be more willing to accept a loosening of financial conditions to prevent a recession. However, if it proves to be a false signal, the central bank will likely emphasize the need for higher long-term yields. Gillum suggests that it will take several more months of similar reports, or even better, to determine the true course of action.