Risk gains as Powell signals lower for longer on rates

Equities

Fed chair Jay Powell announced a new monetary policy framework based on average inflation targeting (AIT), as had been anticipated. I read this as admission by the Fed that the monetary and fiscal response to the pandemic will ultimately prove inflationary (M1 increase, deglobalisation etc), but that the Fed does not want to pull the handbrake on a long and slow recovery by being constrained with a mandate to keep inflation level. It’s also increasingly politically tuned into recent events in prioritising jobs over price stability.

Essentially the Fed is taking a step back from price stability, it is not going to worry about inflation overshooting; the focus is on employment not stable money. It’s about supporting the economy not prices – this is an important shift, albeit one that we have largely assumed unofficially to be the case for some time. The Fed today made it clear it won’t take the punch bowl away as quickly as it would have done in the past.

Fed AIT framework leaves unanswered questions

But the Fed is keeping its hands relatively free by not sticking to any specific formula relating to AIT – this poses some unanswered questions for the FOMC. There was not much in the way of detail of how the Fed plans to  deliver the new framework. For instance, if inflation runs at 1% for 5 years, does that mean it allows it to run at 3% for the next 5?

Powell’s speech lacked in specifics on the nature of forward guidance that the FOMC is clearly leaning towards – this will be an important lever of the AIT approach, so it needs to be clarified at the next meeting in September.

Should forward guidance be based on a time horizon or specific economic data? Yield curve control has been shelved as an idea by the FOMC but remains an option should it desire. The September 16th meeting will be of great importance to iron out how AIT will be delivered.

Powell stressed that if ‘excessive inflationary pressures’ were to build, or inflation expectations were to rise above levels consistent with its mandate, the Fed ‘would not hesitate to act’. This gives it a degree of latitude down the line should there be a major inflation overshoot.

Dollar offered, stocks and gold bid

Markets are trying to make sense of the changes. The dollar index sold off initially to 92.40 but pared losses and came back to 93 as US yields started to pick up with 10s back above 0.719% having dipped to 64bps. EURUSD spiked to 1.190 but quickly retreated to 1.180. GBPUSD surged to 1.3280 before coming back in to the round number support.

Stocks rose with Wall Street hitting fresh record highs at the open as AIT is fundamentally supportive of risk assets, entailing as it does lower interest rates for longer. The S&P 500 approached 3,500 for the first time, meaning it’s up 100 points for the week. Gold drove sharply higher to $1976 but retraced as quickly as it rallied to $1940 as yields climbed. The key for the market is what will AIT do to inflation expectations.

Earlier data showed just what a big task the Fed has in getting unemployment back to pre-pandemic levels (3.5%). It’s clear the US still has a very troubled jobs market – initial claims still above 1m, continuing claims only came down a small amount to 14.54m from 14.76m a week before. Q2 contraction in the US was a little less than previously estimated, with the annualised figure coming in at –31.7% vs –32.9% on the first reading.