The Big Picture Market Perspectives 3/3/17



March 3, 2017, 4:00pm EST                                                                                             Invest Alongside Billionaires For $297/Qtr

We closed last Friday with another new weekly record high on the Dow.  But we closed with an all-time record low in the German 2-year bund.  That development in Europe, weighed on U.S. yields, pulling yields down here from 2.5 to 2.31%.

So we had this divergence between what was happening in stocks and what the bond market was communicating.  The bond market was telling us there was growing concern about danger to European economic stability, and therefore global economic stability, in the upcoming French elections. Stocks were telling us, growth is king – the ultimate problem solver, and growth is coming.

With that, Trump’s address to Congress on Tuesday night became a major sentiment gauge/the arbiter on which would win out, based on the perception of whether or not the Trump administration could execute on its economic plans.

The vote was “affirmative” for the growth story.   Stocks gapped higher to new record highs (closing this week at another weekly record high).  And the bond market turned on a dime, following Trump on Tuesday night, and have been climbing since.  German yields have bounced.  And U.S. yields have bounced.  That leads us up to today’s speech from Janet Yellen.

There has been a tremendous shift in the past week in the expectations for a March rate hike.  It’s gone from a 27% chance of a March 15 rate hike being priced in last Friday.  By Wednesday morning, after Trump’s speech, it was 70%!  And we close out the week with an 80% chance of a hike this month.

That additional bump came today on a speech and Q&A session from Janet Yellen today. Here’s the expectations bar she chose to set:  She said the Fed would likely be moving faster than it had in 2015 and 2016. It should be said that they only hiked once in 2015 and 2016 because their forecasts proved grossly overly optimistic and they had to adjust on the fly.  So they’ve already told us, back in December, that they think it will be three times this year.  That’s faster than one.  And today she reiterated that today.
And today she also said that if the data continued to improve as they forecast, they can hike this month.

Now, they have a post-FOMC meeting press conference scheduled FOUR more times this year (March, June, September and December). Despite what they suggest, that they could hike at any meeting and just call an impromptu press conference, they would be crazy to introduce such a surprise in markets.  Stability and confidence work in their favor.  Surprises threaten stability and confidence.

So if they indeed hike three times, they have a narrow window.  And if they think they need to hike faster, because perhaps fiscal policy accelerates growth and inflation, they may need to keep the December meeting open for a fourth hike.

But, Yellen and company have recently gone out of their way to tell us that they are not even factoring in fiscal stimulus and deregulation (growth policies) into their view on the economy.  They’ll believe when they see it and take that information as it comes, which puts them in an even more vulnerable position to needing more tightening this year, if you take them at their word and trust their forecasting abilities.

So with that in mind, why has the Fed become so bulled up on interest rate picture since December?  Is it because the inflation and jobs data has gotten that much better?  The unemployment rate has been below 6% (the Fed’s original target) since September of 2014 and below 5% for the past year. And the core inflation rate has been above 2% since November of 2015, which includes all year last year, when the Fed was reversing course on its promises for a big tightening year.  That’s near normal employment in the Fed’s eyes and above its target for inflation – a clear signal to normalize interest rates.  But they’ve barely budged.

Why?  Because last year the global economy looked vulnerable. With that, they threw every other guiding data point out the window and went back to playing defense. And as recent as August of last year, the Fed messaging was quite dovish.  What’s the biggest difference between now and then?  The prospects of major fiscal stimulus – precisely what they say they are leaving out of their forecasts for now.

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