The Fed Spoke and Bonds Didn’t Listen

March 22, 2021jordanreedNews

Last Week In Review: The Fed Spoke and Bonds Didn’t Listen

This past week the Federal Reserve issued their monetary policy statement, as well as new forecasts on the economy, inflation, and rates. Despite all the soft talk on inflation and seeming lack of concern on higher prices ahead, the bond market was not buying it. Let’s break down what happened.

Fed meetings are always market movers, but this particular one seemed to carry even more weight. The Fed has lost control of long-term rates, as they have ticked higher since January 6, despite the Fed trying to “talk down” inflation on numerous occasions and purchasing $120B worth of bonds per month.

It’s All About Inflation

Mortgage-backed securities (MBS) are the instruments which determine home loan pricing, and inflation is the main driver. If inflation moves higher, rates must move higher. Currently, inflation is not an issue. It is running at 1.7% year-over-year.

The problem? We are going to see much higher inflation over the next few months as year-over-year figures will explode due to the sharp spike in commodities, oil, lumber, and such since last spring.

In the Fed statement and press conference, the Fed continues to acknowledge that inflation will be volatile in the near-term but will moderate back towards a longer-term 2% run rate by next year.

So far, the bond market is not listening or believing the Fed’s outlook on inflation, and after further digestion of their words, bond prices plunged on Thursday, causing rates to touch the highest levels in over a year.

Three Things Bonds Didn’t Like:

Once again, bonds hate inflation, and there were three things from the Fed meeting which spooked bonds and caused the spike higher in rates:

  1. No “taper” anytime soon, meaning the Fed will continue to purchase at least $120B worth of bonds every month. Normally, you would think this would help rates. Well, the bond market is concerned about the inflationary aspect that continued low rates can fuel. Strange days indeed.
  2. Fed unity in question. Despite forecasting the next rate hike is not expected until 2024, four Fed members on the committee expect higher rates next year, and seven expect higher rates in 2023. The question of Fed unity on rates and inflation is a reason for the spike.
  3. Moving the goalposts. The Fed has a dual mandate of maintaining price stability (inflation) and promoting full employment. On the latter, the Fed has added they now want to see maximum employment as “broad-based and inclusive,” meaning the Fed will now potentially add tracking Black and/or Hispanic unemployment before considering hiking rates. The problem for the bond market? This may lead to higher inflation as the Fed will show restraint on hiking rates because they have a new measure of unemployment to track. Most peculiar Mama.

Bottom line: Rates have resumed their trend higher. As economies reopen, we should expect rates to continue to increase further over time. 

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