The Consumer Price Index (CPI) surged in May 2022 as gas prices continued to run higher. These results came as a downside surprise to a stock market that has been falling most of the week.
Friday's CPI number for May 2022 reflected an increase of 1 percent, compared to "hot" estimates of 0.3 percent in April 2022. On a year-over-year basis, the gain was 8.6 percent, which is a 40-year high in the CPI. Gasoline prices were a key driver of inflation last month, although Owners' Equivalent Rent (OER), which accounts for about a third of the CPI, also gained. The problem going forward is that analysts expect gasoline prices will continue to rise in this summer's driving season. If oil continues to rise, the stickier inflation will be.
This strong inflation result sets the stage for next week's June 15 FOMC meeting. It will be the first 50 basis point increase in the Fed funds rate in decades. Investors have been fully informed of the coming rate hike (and another one in July 2022), as well as the on-going reduction in the Fed's balance sheet.
Supposedly, the markets have fully discounted this event, but there is always a risk that during the Q&A session with Fed Chairman Jerome Powell after the meeting, he says something more hawkish than investors expect. I am betting that he will do nothing to add risk (more downside) to an already skittish market. If so, that could give markets a lift.
Throughout the week, central banks around the world continued to raise interest rates and telegraph their plans to tighten even more as global inflation climbs. Christine Lagarde, the president of the European Central Bank (ECB), joined the crowd on Thursday indicating that the ECB plans to raise interest rates above zero for the first time in a decade by September 2022.
The ECB will raise rates by half a percentage point, followed by a planned quarter-point rise in July 2022, which is a bigger increase than expected. ECB officials are becoming increasingly concerned that higher wages, higher oil prices, and supply chain issues could lead inflation to become entrenched. Sound familiar?
Most of Wall Street expected that inflation may have peaked (and it still may in the months ahead), but the CPI threw a monkey wrench into this theory. The U.S. dollar has reversed course as a result and climbed higher over the last few days. I have advised readers to keep an eye on the greenback as an indication of where stocks might go. Right now, the two have an inverse relationship, so dollar up, stocks down.
I was dead wrong in my expectations that we could see a substantial rally in the stock market. Instead, we have dropped throughout the week as a barrage of interest rate hikes by central bankers throughout the world pressured stocks lower and the U.S. dollar higher. And now we face the Fed next week.
As I write this (Friday morning, June 10), the S&P 500 Index has tested and held at 3,900. If we break this level by more than 20 points, we could see a re-test of the lows (3,810). I suspect that we will bounce today instead. From a technician's point of view, into next week, depending on how the market closes for the week, we may see a down Monday to re-test the lows we put in today and a rebound on Tuesday into Wednesday. At that point it is up to the Fed, which way the markets go. I am hoping the direction is up.
I wanted to give readers a heads-up that I am taking the latter part of next week off, so there will not be a column next week. I'll be back at my post the following week for sure.
Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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