Stock indexes are coming off another week of losses as ongoing worries about inflation, Federal Reserve monetary policy, global energy prices, and political tensions with Russia continue to keep most bulls sticking close to the sidelines.
A new 40-year high read on consumer inflation last week now has Wall Street thinking the Fed might be even more aggressive with rate hikes. At the same time, investors continue to closely monitor the geopolitical headlines involving Russia and Ukraine. From what I’ve heard, there were a lot of diplomatic phone calls over the weekend, including one between Biden and Putin, but nothing seems to have changed in regard to Putin’s “poker face”.
Some military insiders continue to warn that Russia could now invade Ukraine at a moment’s notice. Some are saying it happens this week while others say Russia will invade after the Winter Olympics.
To add even more worry and concern, several geopolitical groups are thinking Russia and China are somewhat collaborating on strategy. This isn’t really anything new but the “buzz” and rumors are starting to get louder. The big what if… what if Russia was to make a move on Ukraine and China a move on Taiwan in a coordinated effort? I don’t really think that happens but there’s always a possibility. Perhaps a more worrisome theory is Russia and China working together on economic warfare strategies to knock the US dollar out of its leadership role as the world’s currency.
Russia has a good hold on energy supply and China is the world’s biggest influence on the global supply chain. If Russia can withhold energy and China slows the supply chain, theoretically they could create a major wave of inflation. If at the same time, they continued to dump US Treasuries in a big way they could weaken the US dollar enough to bring into question its role as the world’s reserve currency, especially with our debt level so elevated. The theory continues… if the US dollar was to weaken enough some exporting countries and global businesses might start to question the value of their goods being sold at a discount when the transaction is settled in US dollars. Hence more longer-term economic concern.
Interest rate hikes
More large Wall Street insiders are talking about perhaps +5 to +7 Fed rate hikes ahead in order to slow domestic inflation. The big questions remain… how fast will the Fed shrink its balance sheet and how long before they will stop raising interest rates? St. Louis Fed President Bullard last week expressed support for a 50-basis points hike, though several other Fed officials have since argued against the idea.
Fed speculation has also brought increased volatility to bond markets with yield on the 10-Treasury topping 2% on Thursday but ending Friday a full 10-basis points lower. The 2-year yield saw its biggest one-day move since 2009, surging 26 basis points at one point on Thursday. Those are pretty dramatic swings for bond markets and highlights the extreme level of uncertainty that is plaguing financial markets.
Just keep in mind however, from the summer of 2016 to the fall of 2018, 10-year Treasury yields jumped from 1.4% to over +3.0% yet the NASDAQ was still able to increase by over +45%.
On the energy front, there continues to be talk of tighter global oil supply and higher prices ahead especially if we see military action between Russia and Ukraine. Remember, increased energy costs can quickly spread through an entire economy as manufacturers pass along higher production and transportation costs in the form of higher consumer prices. Consumers also get dinged at the gas pump as well as with higher heating and cooling costs.
With inflation already smoking hot at +7.6% and Consumer sentiment starting to waiver the market is starting to get more nervous about higher energy costs. Worsening consumer sentiment can be an early warning signal of a decline in consumer spending. However, bulls still largely expect a boost in consumer spending as the Omicron Covid wave continues to fade, pointing to the massive amount of savings and increased asset values that consumers have accumulated over the past couple of years.
Most believe that spending will shift more toward “services” and away from goods, which in turn is expected to help further ease some of the strain on supply chains and start to cool prices. Supply chains have shown slow but steady improvements, especially in the last couple of weeks as Covid cases have plunged, which most economists think will start slowing the rate of monthly inflation gains.
By March, inflation reads will be up against much higher year-ago data which should also help to bring down the rate of monthly increases, at least in theory. And if inflation starts showing signs of coming down on its own, that would likely decrease pressures on the Federal Reserve to resort to more aggressive tactics to tame inflation.
There is no major economic data today but investors are anxious about the Producer Price Index for January due out tomorrow. The bigger economic headlines this week include inflationary data out of China and US retail sales on Wednesday morning.
The Fed FOMC minutes are also being released Wednesday afternoon. The earnings this week include Airbnb and Roblox on Tuesday; Cisco, Nvidia, and Shopify on Wednesday; Palantir and Walmart on Thursday; and Draft kings and John Deere on Friday.