If the markets could make a wish right now, it would be for the Federal Reserve to cut interest rates soon. However, there is still one obstacle standing in the way before the Fed can grant this wish.
Across the board, Treasury bond prices have been on the rise, causing the 10-year yield to drop to around 4.2%. This is a significant decrease from its multiyear high of just over 5% reached in October. The bond market predicts that the Fed will cut short-term rates in the first half of 2024. Additionally, the rate of inflation has significantly decreased from its peak last year, with a year-over-year rate of 3.1% in November.
As a result of these developments, the S&P 500 has been steadily rising since late October, currently boasting a 21% gain for the year. This upward trajectory has given equity investors confidence that the economy can maintain its recent growth once rates finish surging.
One positive outcome of these changes is that companies and households are experiencing lower financing costs. The decrease in Treasury yields has made higher-yielding mortgage and corporate bonds more appealing to investors. Consequently, these bond prices have risen, leading to lower yields. Notably, the iShares iBoxx $ Investment Grade Corporate Bond Exchange-Traded Fund has seen an increase of almost 10% since its multi-month low in October. Similarly, the iShares MBS Exchange-Traded Fund is up approximately 7% since a similar October level.
However, there is a downside to this rise in asset prices, which does not align with the Fed’s objectives. While lower yields make accessing financing easier and facilitate consumer spending on items like houses and other goods and services, it can also impede inflation from reaching the Fed’s target of 2%.
Inflation Persists as Fed Strives for Control
Inflation remains a concern as core consumer prices continue to rise, indicating that a wide range of goods and services are experiencing price increases. The Federal Reserve (Fed) must take action to reduce demand and drive inflation lower.
The Fed is set to make an announcement on Wednesday afternoon. In recent months, it has maintained a balanced approach, expressing its desire to keep interest rates high in order to curb demand, while also monitoring the potential slowdown of the economy, which may require rate cuts. The exact content of the Fed’s statement is uncertain, but it could signal that rates will remain unchanged for the foreseeable future.
Maintaining a delicate balance is proving to be a significant challenge for the Fed. It must find a way to sustainably suppress inflation without pushing the economy into a recession. José Torres, senior economist at Interactive Brokers, highlighted this difficulty.
While progress has been made, the Fed has not yet achieved its goal of defeating inflation. There is still more work to be done.