The Real Truth About Interest Rates

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I met one of my best friends more than 25 years ago on the trading desk. He’s a very private person, so I’ll call him Chris (even though his name is Mike). He runs a small hedge fund, and we chat online every day the market is open.

On Friday, as stocks were moving higher and interest rates were plummeting, we were discussing the day’s market action.

M: Feels like the market wants to melt up.

C: Market is telling Powell to go jump in a lake.

Full disclosure, my buddy Chris used much more colorful language than that. The language used on the trading desk could make a Samuel L. Jackson rant after stubbing his toe seem tame. But since we keep it classy here at Wealthy Retirement, we’ll leave it at “go jump in a lake.” You probably get the idea of what he was saying.

Inflation has come way down from the near-double-digit readings we saw just a few months ago. It’s currently at 3.2%. And Fed Chair Jay Powell has been steadfast in his insistence that the Fed will tame inflation and will not back off until the mission is accomplished.

But a quick look at interest rates tells you the markets aren’t too worried about future rate hikes.

The yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury has come all the way down from 5% in mid-October to under 4.2% as of this morning. That’s a big move in a short amount of time.

Chart: The Bond Market Is Calling Powell's Bluff

Markets tend to be forward-looking mechanisms. They generally forecast about six to 12 months into the future. That’s why you sometimes see stocks bottom and start to rebound while the economy is still in a recession. When that happens, it signals that the recession is likely to end soon. Similarly, when stocks fall while things are booming, that tells you the good times might be about to end.

The rapid decline in bond yields suggests to me that the market believes the Fed is done raising rates and that the Fed’s next move will be a reduction in rates, not a hike.

The futures market agrees. According to the fed funds futures data, there is a near-zero probability that the Fed will raise rates in 2024, and it is a near certainty that it will lower them by late next year.

Now, markets are not always right. Things change, data fluctuates and investors respond accordingly. But generally speaking, it pays to listen to what the markets tell you, because they are a good barometer of what is likely to happen.

With stocks climbing and interest rates falling, my interpretation is that inflation is fading and the Fed should be close to finished with its rate hikes.

Should that occur, Jay Powell may find he has more time to relax… perhaps at a lake.

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