How Many Rate Hikes in 2017? Last Week and This Week: March 5, 2017

The Economics excerpt from today’s Sevens Report, which focuses on the most important financial news and takeaways for investors, financial advisors, and CPA’s, last week and this week.

Even uber-dove Lael Brainard supported potentially hiking in March.

Last Week:

The major takeaway from the economic data and Fed speak last week is that because of continued strong data and hawkish Fed speak, a March rate hike now is expected by the markets. Probability (according to Fed Fund futures) of a rate hike on March 15 rose from just over 20% two weeks ago, to over 70% at the end of this week… and that was a legitimate surprise for markets.

The reason that change didn’t cause a pullback in stocks is simple. Economic data last week showed continued acceleration in growth and inflation, and as such that helped cushion the blow from the increased rate hike expectations.

To that point, there were three big numbers from last week and they all beat estimates. February ISM Manufacturing PMI rose to 57.7 vs. (E) 56.4, February ISM Non Manufacturing PMI rose to 57.6 vs. (E) 56.5. And, the core PCE Price Index (the Fed’s preferred measure of inflation) rose 0.3% in February, the biggest monthly increase since January 2016. While the core PCE Price Index rose 1.7% yoy, same as January, the headline PCE Price Index rose 1.9% yoy, just below the Fed’s 2% target and the highest level since February 2013!

Not every economic data point was strong last week (Pending Home Sales missed estimates as did Core Durable Goods. And, headline revised Q1 GDP was a touch light at 1.9% vs. (E) 2.1%). Still, the good data handily outweighed the bad data.

Bigger picture, it’s hard to understate how important continued good economic data has been for markets in 2017. Strong data has helped buy Washington more time on corporate tax cuts, and now it’s helping to cushion the blow from a potentially more hawkish Fed. Strong economic data continues to be the unsung hero of the 2017 stock rally, and it needs to continue given the increasingly bleak policy outlook, and potentially a more hawkish Fed. Frankly, watching and correctly interpreting economic data hasn’t been this important in years.

Looking at Fed speak from last week, it was almost universally hawkish. Clearly the Fed is trying to pave the road for a March rate hike. Fed officials Williams, Dudley and Powell all signaled that a rate hike could come in March, and even uber-dove Lael Brainard supported potentially hiking in March.
Then, as if there was any doubt left by the end of last week, on Friday Fed Chair Yellen basically said that if the jobs report is in line, the Fed is hiking rates (her exact words were more general, and a bit more eloquent, but that was her point).

Bottom line, the Fed appears to be sticking to its promise of three rate hikes in 2017, with the first likely coming in 10 days.

This Week:

Are Janet Yellen and the other members of the Fed supporting more rate hikes in 2017?

Jobs reports are always important economic releases but due to the potential for a March rate hike, this jobs report is even more important than normal because it will decide whether we get a hike next Wednesday.

As usual, it’s jobs week, so that means we will get the ADP report on Wednesday, weekly jobless claims on Thursday (which continue to hit levels last seen since the 1970s), and the official jobs report Friday.

I’ll do my normal “Goldilocks” jobs preview later this week, but the bottom line is that as long as this jobs re-port remains firm, the Fed will hike rates next week.

Outside of the jobs report, it’s actually a pretty quiet week, economically speaking.

In the US, the only other notable report is Productivity (out Wednesday). Low worker productivity has been a major downward influence on inflation, but it’s shown signs of ticking higher lately. A continuation of that trend will be slightly hawkish. Finally, looking internationally, China will be in focus as we get Trade Balance (Tuesday) and CPI/PPI Wednesday.

Data from China has been consistently decent (including last week’s February manufacturing and composite PMIs), so it’ll be a big surprise if the data suddenly turns south, but China remains a macro area to watch as any hints of a slowdown will make waves for global markets.

Bottom line, this week really is all about the jobs report. If it’s close to in line, the Fed will hike next Wednesday. And, if it’s hotter than expected, get ready for talk about more than three hikes this year (and that idea is a risk to stocks).

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Economic Cheat Sheet: February 13, 2017

Last Week:

There was very little incremental economic data last week, and what reports did come met expectations and importantly did nothing to change the perception that economic activity is legitimately accelerating—a perception that continues to support stocks broadly.

From a domestic data viewpoint, there isn’t a lot to talk about. Jobless claims continued to fall and hit another multi-decade low (a 43-year low), and that’s even more impressive when you consider how much the population has grown since then. Internationally, there was mixed data from China as their foreign exchange reserves dropped below the psychologically important $3 trillion level. While that was ignored by markets this week, China continues to bubble as a potential macro surprise in Q1/early Q2. These foreign currency reserves are a story we need to continue to watch.

But, January Trade Balance was much stronger than expected (exports up 7.9% vs. (E) 3.1%), and that data point early Friday helped alleviate some concern. Still, China’s currency reserves are declining, and authorities are actively trying to pull leverage from their economy and cool growth. More often than not, that leads to some sort of macro-economic growth scare—so just a heads up for the coming months.

Bottom line, economic growth remains an important pillar of this rally, and nothing last week changed that set up, which again was why at worst stocks were flat before the political headlines caused the late-week rally.

This Week:

As we’ve said, two of the biggest risks to the rally outside of Washington remain 1) Lackluster data and 2) A more hawkish Fed. Given those risks, the growth and inflation data this week is important.

Janet Yellen (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

However, the most important event of the week will be Fed Chair Yellen’s semi-annual Humphrey-Hawkins testimony to Congress, on Tuesday (the Senate) and Wednesday (the House). While she isn’t going to telegraph when the Fed will raise rates, her comments are still important considering the market remains complacent with regards to a Fed rate hike. There is no expectation of a March or May hike, and we continue to think the market is a little too complacent with regards to the potential for a May hike (we admit March seems remote).

Staying on the theme of Fed expectations, the next most important number this week is the January CPI report out Tuesday. The Fed does not believe inflation is accelerating meaningfully (due to the data), but if inflation does pick up pace that will be hawkish and will send yields higher—and most likely stocks lower.

Looking at growth data, Wednesday and Thursday are the key days to watch as we get January Retail Sales (Wed), Empire Manufacturing (Wed), January Industrial Production (Wed) and Feb. Philly Fed (Thursday). Of those four reports, the retail sales number is the most important, because consumer spending has been the engine of growth for the US economy, and it needs to maintain a decent pace because while business investment has picked up, it won’t offset a continued moderation in consumer spending.

The Empire and Philly Fed Indices are the next most important numbers next week, as they will give us the first look at February activity. Since better growth is a key support to this rally, they need to show continued strength. Neither number needs to accelerate meaningfully, but we can’t see much of a retracement, either. Bottom line, strong economic data and benign inflation data (Goldilocks numbers) have been an important support for this market as Washington reverts to the mean (gets more dysfunctional), and that needs to continue if stocks can hold recent gains in the face of confusing political headlines.

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Dollary Futures: “Trump-Off Trade” Leads Dollar to Test Key Support

dollar futures

The dollar index fell into a key support level yesterday as the market remained in “Trump-Off” mode. If support just above 100 is violated, dollar index futures could quickly fall back to the uptrend line pictured above, near 98.00

Donald Trump and British PM Teresa May were the two major influences on the currency markets yesterday, as Trump’s comments to the WSJ over the weekend about the dollar being too strong, combined with May’s Brexit address being slightly less hardline than feared, caused a big drop in the greenback. Meanwhile, the pound surged nearly 3% (it’s best day since ’08). The Dollar Index closed down 0.75%.

Starting with the biggest mover on the day, the pound hit fresh multi-decade lows over the weekend on fears of PM May taking a hard line in her Brexit address (the pound briefly broke through 1.20 late Sunday). But in her comments yesterday, May said that while she will seek a clean break from the EU, any final deal will be put to a vote before Parliament.

It was the last point that ignited the pound rally, because while the news of the vote isn’t exactly positive (it will still be a “hard Brexit”) it does introduce some sort of moderating force and influence into the negotiations. And, since it was unexpected, it caused one massive short-covering rally.

Going forward, do we think today’s news marks the low in the pound?

No, not unless US economy rolls over. That’s because Brexit will be a consistent headwind on the pound for quarters and years (May said she will begin a two-year negotiation with the EU in late March). Unless you are a nimble traders, we certainly would not want to be long the pound, as we don’t think this is the start of any material rally (again, absent any rollover in the US data).

Turning to the US, Trump’s comments about the dollar being too strong over the weekend and “killing” US manufacturing hit the currency. As a result of those comments, all other major currencies were universally stronger vs. the buck. The euro and yen rose 0.80% each while the Aussie rose 1% and the loonie rose 0.60%.  Nothing particularly positive occurred with those currencies, they were simply reacting to dollar weakness.

Going forward, at this point I don’t see Trump’s comments as necessarily dollar negative, and for one simple reason. If he accomplishes his goals of tax cuts, infrastructure spending and deregulation, the Fed will hike interest rates much more aggressively than is currency expected, as inflation will accelerate—and that will be demonstrably dollar positive despite what Trump says.

Near term, clearly the momentum is downward, and the dollar is testing support at 100.24. A close below that level likely opens up a run at, and through, par, with truly firm support resting in the high 90s.

Turning to Treasuries, they also traded Trump Off yesterday, in part due to the uncertainty of Trump’s comments (generally though, he didn’t say anything Treasury positive), and the 30 year rose 0.60% while the 10 year rose 0.35%. The 10 year hit a fractional two-month intraday high while yields on both bonds hovered near two-month lows.

Much like the dollar, we don’t see the recent Trump Off rally in bonds as longer-term violation of the new downtrend. Again, that’s based on the simple fact that if growth accelerates, so will inflation, and the Fed will have to hike rates faster than is expected—and that will power bond yields higher.

Near term, clearly we are seeing consolidation. If today’s CPI is light, and the Philly Fed is light later this week, and if Yellen is dovish in her comments, then we could see the 10-year yield test 2.30%. Longer term, unless we see a big reversal in economic growth, this counter-trend rally in bonds remains an opportunity to get more defensive via shorter duration bonds, inflation-linked bonds (VTIP) or inverse bond ETFs.