Volcker stormed to the scene to extinguish a blaze lit by others, while Powell battles a conflagration of his own making. Even if Powell executed a perfect, disinflationary soft landing, there may be something else in the cards: The magnitude of M2 shrinkage has resulted in the Marshallian K’s worst ever reading.
Monetary conditions have worsened, recession evidence is piling up, and some of our Large Cap valuation measures have returned to their tenth historical deciles. However, with the economy near full employment we thought it worth revisiting the past to find examples where the market might have temporarily thrived under similar circumstances.
When Jerome Powell took the reins of the Federal Reserve in early 2018, many commentators cheered the fact that he does not possess a Ph.D. in Economics. It will be many, many years before historians are able to conclude whether that’s a good or bad thing.
Yesterday’s action, though, left us wondering whether Powell might stealthily be in the process of earning a different designation—that of Chartered Market Technician (CMT).
We scrutinized the typical path of money growth during the four-year presidential election cycle, and found that it typically tends to bottom out in October of the midterm year! The cycle says a monetary pivot is imminent, and the average pattern traced out by M2 suggests an acceleration in the growth rate of about 2.5% leading up to the presidential election.
Boy, were the pundits ever right about the Roaring Twenties. Less than three years into the decade, the animal they fear most has already roared two times. Actually, the first one, in the first quarter of 2020, was more like a piercing “yap,” taking the S&P 500 down almost 34% in just 23 trading days. The second roar has been a deeper, more guttural one that’s lasted nine months and is probably not done.
The LEI’s 3.6% six-month annualized loss through September 2006 was the largest decline not followed almost immediately by a recession. This year, the LEI contracted by 3.7% over the six months through June—if a recession is avoided in the current experience, it would be the most misleading signal in the history of the LEI as currently constructed.
The late 2018 policy error and subsequent pivot of Chairman Powell’s rookie year is probably the best case-study for today’s pivot debate. Here we evaluate the current status of key pivot triggers and compare them to the readings of late 2018. Given the political environment and backward-looking nature of the Fed, we think the bar is higher for a pivot than the market hopes.
The market impact from money printing has been underwhelming when adjusted for the inflation it’s unleashed. Measured from the peaks associated with the first attempt at Quantitative Tightening, in inflation-adjusted terms, Small Caps, EAFE, and Emerging Markets all have losses.
Market conditions leading up to the May rate hike were similar (if not worse) than those that triggered Powell’s late-2018 “pivot.” Free-market tightening of 2022 is apt to play into the path of policy. There’s likely a dovish “pivot” in store later this year—one that may be aggressively sold rather than bought.
Like Gonzaga in the NCAA basketball tournament, stock market bulls are set for their first real test in a very long time.
Senator Rand Paul’s annual “Festivus” report on wasteful spending makes for sobering reading to the dwindling few who care about federal finances. The “low light” for 2021 was a $465,000 grant to the National Institute of Health for a study of pigeons playing slot machines.
Yesterday, the Russell 2000 closed down 20.9% from its November 8th high, and market bulls have conceded it was “due” for a pullback after a 146% gain off the March-2020 COVID lows.
The Russell’s decline is moderate by the historical high-beta standards of Small Caps. However, this drop—combined with other developments transpiring over the last few years—has produced a shocking result: The Russell 2000 is now unchanged on an inflation-adjusted basis since its “Quantitative-Tightening Top” of August 31, 2018. But what a three-year ride it’s been!
With consumer price inflation raging at 6.2% and few indications of an imminent rollover, Jay Powell has waved the white flag and retired the ill-begotten “transitory” descriptor. The timing of Powell’s concession is intriguing—perhaps he’s a fellow follower of a simple inflation model: the Output Gap.
The extra months of QE “auto-pilot” failed to support some of the themes we’d have thought were the most likely to benefit from it—including IPOs, SPACs, Bitcoin, and the sky-high growers favored by the ARK Innovation ETF. Instead, the smart play with each of these assets was to ignore the ever-expanding Fed balance sheet and sell in February.
If NBER is correct that a new economic expansion began in mid-2020, then this cycle is unfolding in “dog years.” After limiting between-meal snacks earlier this year, champion-breeder Jay Powell has informed his pack of canines that their portions will also be reduced as of later this month.
The gap between YOY growth rates in M2 and nominal GDP just flipped negative after four quarters of record-high readings. In other words, the recovering economy is now drinking from a punch bowl that the stock market once had all to itself. Similar drinking binges occurred in 2010 and 2018, both of which then experienced corrections north of 15%.
It’s certain that today’s cyclical bout of inflation will prove “transitory,” if only because the word itself is practically meaningless. Our time on earth will also prove transitory, and so too will the current stock market mania—to the shock of most of the nearly 20 million “investors” on the Robinhood platform.
In an echo of last decade, the Fed has come under fire for keeping crisis-based monetary policies in place well after a crisis has subsided. Predictably, the Fed rationalizes its uber-accommodation by citing the slowest-to-recover data series from a set of figures that already suffer from an inherent lag (labor market indicators).
Our trusted civil servants must have found a list of our old Economic/Interest Rates/Inflation components and began to “discontinue” those once invaluable to us and other Fed watchers. It’s a hindrance, but we still have the one that is most correlated to stock prices and it’s free: The ever-expanding balance sheet.
The COVID collapse showed the Fed could abandon its clunky forward guidance and make the appropriate “pivot” when the facts changed. Now that facts have changed for the better, the Fed is right back to the rigid and dogmatic approach that characterized Fed-speak for almost all of the last economic expansion.
On May 25th, Fed Chair Jerome Powell promised to pull back emergency support “very gradually over time and with great transparency.”
“Very gradually?” No one doubts that. But “with great transparency?” Not a chance...