Chairman Powell Says Higher Inflation is Acceptable
And The Stock Market Surges.

March 24, 2024

Weekly Market Outlook

By Donn Goodman


blank

Welcome back loyal readers.  Glad you could join us for this week’s Market Outlook.  Hope you enjoyed a profitable week of investing and trading in the positive market.

The Federal Reserve kept interest rates on hold.

After the Federal Reserve finished meeting for two days earlier last week, Chairman Powell announced that they would hold interest rates steady.  More importantly, he announced that the Fed remained cautiously optimistic that inflation is trending down as they stuck to the path for interest rate cuts to come later in the year.  The Chairman conveyed that price pressure will continue to ease, and it will likely be appropriate to start cutting later in 2024.

By a small majority, Federal Reserve committee members stuck to the expectation of three cuts for the remainder of the year.  Powell also indicated that slowing the pace of the reduction to the Fed’s bond holdings will come into view “fairly soon.”

Is this a change in posture?

No, but it does show that the Federal Reserve is likely willing to accept higher inflation than their long-held objective of getting inflation down to 2% for their long-term objective.  See the dot pattern below indicating 3 rate cuts during 2024:

blank

One problem area of inflation is housing.

Housing costs remain a lingering inflationary concern and have challenged the Federal Reserve’s effort to curb rising prices. Fortunately, rents have shown signs of cooling, but we don’t think a steady downward trend has fully materialized yet.

Housing costs are an essential part of the economic backdrop.  Higher market rents erode consumer spending and have a negative impact on discretionary spending including retail sales, which remains a significant part of the economic engine.

Chairman Powell expressed confidence that lower market rents would eventually translate into lower housing inflation.  He did acknowledge uncertainty about the timing of this impact. He also stressed that any decision the Fed might make will be data dependent.  We are of the opinion that this data point may cause additional complications for the Fed’s action to lower rates.  We see these rate cuts potentially being pushed out further in the year and then being construed as a political, more than economic move.

See the most recent PCE (Personal Consumption Expenditure) chart below, which includes housing but not food and energy:

blank

Why would the Fed cut their overnight lending rate then?

There are several important reasons that the Fed is willing to stay on track to reduce the Fed Funds rates from its current 5.25% - 5.50% to a target (based on the dot pattern) of 3 cuts down to 4.50% - 4.25%?  Even without a significant reduction below the current annualized rate of inflation of 3% or better, the Fed is inclined to reduce rates and probably sooner due to the following reasons:

  • Even if inflation climbed to 3.0% or more, the spread between short-term interest rates (1-5 years) at 4.6% and the rate of inflation is too wide. They would like to see short-term rates at or below the rate of inflation.  Otherwise, monetary policy is too restrictive and borrowing costs for businesses as and home buyers is punitive.
  • The Fed believes that the economy is decelerating (slowing down), and they would like to see interest rates less restrictive. While corporate earnings have been well above expectations, growing 3.5% or better since 3Q 2023, companies are beginning to conduct layoffs and gear up for a softening economy.  The Fed is aware of this and wants to provide easier credit for the economy.
  • If the Fed is going to normalize interest rate conditions, they need to do it long before the election in November so as not to look as if they are trying to interfere with the Election and any perceived advantage for one party over another.
  • The Fed understands that higher interest rates are a material drag on current government debt. Higher interest rates are now responsible for over $1 trillion in finance charges to the Government, exceeding the total defense budget.  This is unsustainable.
  • Interest rates need to come down to bring down the rates offered at the Treasury auctions. Treasury Secretary Yellen has indicated they will suspend some Treasury auctions until such time that interest rates come down as the finance rates on these auctions are egregious.

A big week for Central Banks around the world.

Many countries around the world also held central bank meetings over the last few weeks signaling their future plans on their monetary policy.

The Swiss National Bank, citing progress on inflation, became the first among global peers to cut interest rates.  Norway signaled no such move to lower rates for at least another 6 months.  As was expected, The Bank of Japan finally ended its negative interest rate regime (-0.25%) and raised rates to 0%.  This was a long time coming and a good sign that economic conditions have finally picked up in Japan.

In Africa, central banks in the continent’s biggest economies, including Egypt and Kenya, all maintained tight monetary policies to contend with lingering and sticky inflation.

Several other developed nations signaled optimism that their rate cuts were still on the table for later this year, similar to the United States stance.

The Fed’s Projections.

As referenced above, much of the Fed’s motivation for reducing the Fed Funds was that inflation would decline and economic conditions soften.  Their longer-term expectations were evident in the data that they put forth this past week.  See table below:

blank

As mentioned above, it certainly seems that Powell & Company are willing to accept higher inflation (as referenced in the chart above) than previous targets.

Our take:  Both Mish and I have been suggesting that inflation wouldn’t come down so quickly.  While we both saw it trending down, we were not surprised that it started to pick up again in January and February when it unexpectedly came in “hotter” than expected.  Right now, we are having a hard time buying the idea that inflation gets to 2.4% with economic conditions as good as they currently are.

Not everyone is happy with possible rate cuts.

We have maintained “higher for longer” and will continue with this narrative.  Additionally, we are not surprised that some economists have NOT agreed with Chairman Powell’s assessment that rates should be reduced.  Former Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers this week accused the Fed of having “itchy fingers” on rate cuts in the face of a stronger economy.

In summary:  We would NOT be surprised if the Fed went to 1 or 2 rate cuts and that they could be put off by a month or two than is currently expected.

Continued Concern:

For over a year we have laid out the lingering concerns from some economists that we are headed for a recession.  This has not materialized (yet), even though we have had the longest running inversion between 2-year and 10-year Treasuries.  In the past, this type of inversion has forecasted an oncoming recession. There are still plenty of market commentators who continue to stick with the recession narrative.  See chart below:

blank

We have no idea if a recession in 2024 will ever materialize.  However, we remind you that in the past the Federal Reserve has cut rates more often from weak economic conditions. These were typically the result of slow or no growth or an economic contraction that was facing a recession.

Does the Federal Reserve know something that they are not telling us?

The Stock Market Surge.

Given the positive news from the Federal Reserve and no pushback from Chairman Powell, even with the recent climb higher from the CPI, PPI, and the PCE, Wall Street surged based on potential future rate cuts.  Why?

Lowering interest rates provides less drag on companies and investors as financing rates decline.  Long-term investors adjust their future cash flow rates to evaluate possible stock targets.  Additionally, earnings can begin to re-accelerate as consumers feel the “ease” from lower interest rates. Calculations on stock multiples can expand as the looser financial conditions take over.

Investors and traders celebrated the news of these possible rate cuts and the S&P 500 closed above 5200. This marked the 20th new high for the year on Thursday.

The MSCI global gauge of shares also climbed more than 2% for this past week while the S&P 500 closed up 2.3% for the week, putting in its best week since December.

According to Eric Sterner at Apollon Wealth, “The Goldilocks narrative is still very much in play with the Fed sticking to its projection for cuts while also raising economic growth forecasts.”

Not only did the S&P 500 establish a new high but stock markets around the world, including Japan, Hong Kong and across Europe closed on new highs as the global stock market rally (bull market) continues.

Could the Federal Reserve cut rates with the S&P at new fresh highs?  (it has happened more often than you might think-see chart below)

The Bull Market is Making History:  5 months, 28% and $10 Trillion.

blank

Since October 27, 2023, the S&P 500 (and other market indices such as the NASDAQ 100) has been surging.  It is close to the 5-month mark now and has appreciated 28% and added $10 trillion in market capitalization.

How High Can the S&P 500 Go? (see chart below):

blank

blank

The S&P 500 closed at a record high on Thursday for the third day in a row and had the best week since December.  Similar momentum thrusts have led to further gains.  See chart below:

blank

Last week’s winners and losers.

Below is a chart indicating some of the biggest winners and a few losers (there weren’t many) from last week:

blank

Technology (especially semiconductor and AI related companies) and homebuilder stocks have been the leaders over the past 6 months. Here are a couple of charts showing just how positive these areas of the market have been.  In fact, the NASDAQ has had such a long winning streak, there has not been a 2% down day in over 100 trading days and its longest winning streak since the great financial crisis of 2008-2009.

blank

blank

I point these two areas out specifically because our GEMS, ETF Sector Plus, Large Cap Leaders and Small & Midcap Earnings Growth strategies have all benefited by being early into technology and homebuilding stocks.   Please contact Rob@MarketGauge.com if you would like additional information on any of these individual strategies or how they fit into our All-Weather Blended Portfolios. 

Earnings Continue Driving Prices Higher.

With or without the perception that the Fed will soon lower interest rates, the market is also being driven by good positive earnings growth.

We are just finishing up the 4th quarter of 2023 earnings season.  This was the second consecutive quarter of earnings growth. So Q3 of 2023 officially halted the earnings recession.  Total S&P 500 earnings for Q4 are expected to be up 6.5% from the same period in the prior year on 3.8% higher revenues.  This is the best earnings growth rate since the 2nd quarter of 2022.

Looking at the full-year picture, total S&P 500 earnings are expected to increase 8.7% on 2.9% higher revenues in 2024.  The takeaway here is that the earnings recession is in the rearview mirror, and markets are expecting a return to growth in the months and years ahead.  This is according to Zack’s Research.  See chart below:

blank

When do we get a pause?

Some analysts have been calling for a “pause” in a sideways consolidation or even a correction to digest the gains established over the past 5 months.  Not sure that is going to happen as most of the market’s indicators are showing confirmation of the uptrend and not clear divergences which would make investors nervous.

blank

For example, based on new highs and the expanding breadth of stocks in the S&P 500 that are above their 50- and 200-day moving averages, the markets are on very positive footing.  See below:

blank

blank

Given how far markets have come in 5 months, should investors feel comfortable putting new $ to work?

This is the biggest question I hear now.  Also, investor sentiment readings are back towards the highest levels not seen for a long time. See chart below:

blank

It is estimated that the average 401k plan has increased by more than $10,000 since the beginning of the year.  Investors, big and small, are feeling the “wealth effect” from seeing their balances increase over the past 5 months.

Therefore, should investors be cautious about putting new $ to work?

Two charts say NO!!!.

The first shows what happens after the one year start of a new bull market.  If the current bull market started in November 2022 and we keep hitting new highs, look to the chart below as an indicator of where we could be headed.  History shows us that buying after a new high can be very lucrative.

blank

Additionally, it is important to remember that we are in an election year.  We have previously shown charts that reinforce the fact that the 4th year in an election cycle tends to be positive and that when an incumbent President is running, the market produces even better returns. The chart below reinforces the pattern we have seen with a weak midterm year (2022) followed by fresh new highs.  You will note that this pattern has a track record of producing a positive return 100% of the time.

blank

Thanks for reading.  I hope that our commentary, along with the charts presented, might reinforce the positive aspects of the kind of market we are now experiencing.

I now turn it over to Keith and his team for the BIG VIEW bullets.  Please reach out and contact me (DonnG@MarketGaugePro.com) if you have any questions or comments.  We appreciate your reading and wish you a good week ahead.

blank

 

 

 

blank

Risk-On

  • None of the 4 key US indices are overbought on either Real Motion or price. (+)
  • Semiconductors (SMH) had a strong week followed by Consumer Discretionary (XLY) outperforming Consumer Staples (XLP) by almost 2%, showing notable sector rotation back to risk-on stocks. (+)
  • Market Internals improved to a positive to neutral reading, with the Cumulative Advance/Decline line making a new yearly high for the S&P 500. (+)
  • The New High / New Low ratio also reversed course and improved back into risk-on mode in the short term. (+)
  • Risk Gauges improved back to fully Bullish. (+)
  • The Short vs. Mid-term Volatility Ratio (VIX / VXV) continues its run from last week. (+)
  • Cash Volatility (VIX.X) is now in a Bear phase and broke down below an important trend line, looking to be on the verge of continuing lower. (+)
  • The longer end of the yield curve (TLT) had a nice bounce reclaiming both its 10 and 200-day moving averages, as the Fed seems to have abandoned its fight on inflation. (+)
  • Both Value (VTV) and Growth (VUG) look strong, with Value giving up leadership on a short-term basis relative to the S&P 500. (+)
  • While Regional Banks (KRE) have rejected the 50-day moving average once again, both Transportation (IYT) and Retail (XRT) continued to new highs leading Mish’s Modern Family. (+)
  • Foreign Equities seem to have lost their leadership relative to the US on a short-term basis, however, both Emerging (EEM) and Established (EFA) foreign equities are still in strong bull phases. (+)

 Risk-Off

  • Soft Commodities (DBA) have continued to explode to the upside and are now outperforming the S&P 500 on a weekly timeframe, hitting its highest price since 2014. (-)

Neutral

  • Despite 3 of the 4 key US indices making new highs this week (excluding IWM), all 4 indices rolled back over in the latter half of the week. (=)
  • Volume patterns improved across the board this week back to a Neutral reading, despite distribution days to end the week in both the S&P 500 and Russell 2000. (=)
  • There is a mixed message between Metals like Palladium (PALL) and Silver (SLV) down on the week while Metal Mining was up. (=)
  • Along with a healthy bounce from the 50-day moving average in the IWM, the number of stocks within the IWM index that are above key moving averages improved back to neutral territory. (=)
  • Gold (GLD) and Oil (USO) are continuing to digest recent gains, but GLD needs to hold the 200 level on a closing basis. (=)

Stay One Step Ahead of The Markets and Profit
From The Current Volatility With Market Outlook

Keith Schneider

Every week you'll gain actionable insight with:

  • Unique analysis of themes driving the market trends, so you stay of the right side of the trends
  • Powerful inter-market analysis that reveals market turning points early
  • Big View charts and indicators that identify dangers and opportunities
  • Highlights of the most important economic trends, so you're on top of the news flow
Subscribe Now!
Donn Goodman