The financial markets were expecting a lot of good news out of the Federal Open Market Committee meeting this week. Investors were betting that not only would the Fed pause, but possibly announce an end of interest rate hikes altogether. Some even expected a timetable for future rate cuts that would be sooner than later.
The market was right on the pause in interest rate hikes. The U.S. central bank decided not to hike the Fed funds rate but that was about the extent of the good news. In his Q&A session after the meeting, Chair Jerome Powell reiterated his message that further rate hikes were still on the table, but they would proceed "carefully." They have already raised rates 12 times over 17 months. He also left the audience with an expectation that there would be at least one more interest rate hike, if not two, this year.
In addition, the dot plot chart, which represents Fed members' expectations for future changes in interest rates indicated that most members had backed off from a prospective four cuts next year to only two, maybe. Most thought an interest cut would not occur until sometime in the latter part of 2024 — if then. Part of the problem, Powell said, was the continuing strength in the U.S. economy, which is performing far better than fed officials expected.
When everyone is on one side of the boat (as they were before the meeting), the risk is that a disappointment could capsize the boat. That was what exactly happened as Powell came out much more hawkish than anyone expected. Traders pulled the plug on bullish trades driving the main averages down by more than 1 percent and followed through on Thursday with similar losses.
In the bond market, the thinking was just as dire. If interest rates were going to stay higher for longer than yields needed to adjust to reflect that new reality.
Traders sold bonds across the board sending yields to 15-year highs. The yield on the 10-year, U.S. Treasury bond spiked to 4.6 percent, which sent the dollar higher and equities lower.
Technology was the hardest hit, but few sectors escaped the selling. Sectors that have an inverse correlation with the dollar, such as precious metals, and materials. etc., were dumped and speculative stocks took it on the chin. Energy was one of the few bright spots with oil prices holding up in the $90/bb. range. However, higher oil prices only complicate the Fed's work. As I wrote last week, higher energy prices fuel higher inflation and the longer it stays at this level, the harder the Fed's job becomes in reducing inflation.
Several negative short-term events are adding to the pessimistic attitude of investors. The UAW strike, which threatens to expand, could dent economic growth. The looming government shutdown, caused by the chaotic atmosphere within the Republican party, does not inspire buyers either. The sharp climb in bond yields has also tempted more investors to seek safety.
The Fed's hawkish stance ruined my hopes for a bounce this week, and we are still in a weak seasonal period. I warned readers this is historically a negative time for the markets. I had expected that the SP 500 Index would at least re-test the August lows and that did occur this week (the intra-day low for that index was 4,335). Right now, the S&P 500 Index is oversold, more so than at any other time this year.
A relief rally on Friday was to be expected. It seemed anemic to me but could continue into next week. I advise readers to remain cautious for now and most likely into mid-October. There could be further downside, especially if we see yields and the dollar move higher.
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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