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Tuesday, March 22, 2022

ICYMI: Bond Yields Rush Higher

A bond selloff (lower prices means higher yields) is deepening after Monday's (March 21) comments from Jerome Powell, which said the Fed is prepared to act even more aggressively to tackle inflation.

The yield on the 10-year Treasury has soared 20 basis points to 2.32% since the remarks, leading to the worst month for the asset class since 2016. Meanwhile, the 2-year Treasury yield broke above 2%, jumping almost 24 bps over the past 24 hours to reach 2.19%, as the yield curve hurtles towards an inversion (or one of the best indicators of a coming recession). Stocks are hanging in there despite the latest comments - closing in positive territory yesterday - while futures linked to the major averages are up another 0.4% Tuesday morning.

Quote: "If we determine that we need to tighten beyond common measures of neutral (i.e. an interest rate that neither hinders nor fuels economic growth) and into a more restrictive stance, we will do that," Jerome Powell announced during a speech at the National Association for Business Economics. He even went as far to say that the central bank is prepared to raise interest rates by 50 basis points at the next policy meeting. 

Consumer prices took a turn for the worse in February as CPI growth rose by 7.9%, representing the largest 12-month increase since January 1982.

What happened to transitory? "In my view, an important part of the explanation is that forecasters widely underestimated the severity and persistence of supply-side frictions, which, when combined with strong demand, especially for durable goods, produced surprisingly high inflation," Powell declared at the conference. However, he's somewhat optimistic that central bankers will be able to engineer a so-called soft landing, in which the rate is raised high enough to keep the economy from overheating but not so much that it triggers a recession. "While some have argued that history stacks the odds against achieving" this, there are three episodes - in 1965, 1984, and 1994 - where the Fed "significantly" raised rates without a downturn. "I hasten to add that no one expects that bringing about a soft landing will be straightforward in the current context - very little is straightforward in the current context."

Analyst commentary: "Investors are taking Powell's transparency as a step further to say 'he's just preparing us for the worst,' whereas, the bond market is saying, 'no, no, he's telling you he's going to do at least seven [rate hikes], and you aren't listening,'" said Shannon Saccocia, chief investment officer at Boston Private. "For the long term, 2.3% on the 10-year is not such a high figure at all," added Linda Duessel, senior equity strategist at Federated Hermes. "What spooks the market is when you have very quick moves, such as what we're having now." 

Conclusion: If you haven't been, now is the time to watch your basket like a hawk, being prepared to take action if necessary. 

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