Repost: Approaching Neutral

Here’s a Market update from LOM Financial for the latest Global Market Performance:

Markets rebounded sharply last week with the MSCI World Index gaining 3.40% while the S&P500 rose 4.91%. The bond markets were mainly flat on the week.

The Federal Reserve

The Federal Reserves’ role is to balance unemployment with inflation. It achieves that goal by controlling the cost at which banks can borrow money and by buying companies stocks and bonds in the open market (known as quantitative easing). By lowering interest rates and buying up shares of companies in the open market, they prop up the economy. When they believe the economy is overheating (e.g., almost everyone that wants a job has one and prices of goods are rising), they try to cool things down by raising the interest rates and reducing their balance sheet. The latter is important because an overheated economy would be more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors and unchecked inflation can erode our ability to save and plan over the long-term.

The new Fed Chair, Jerome Powell, inherited an environment with historically low interest rates and a strong economy. He has been on record expressing concern that the low rates were creating a bond market bubble (declining interest rates increase the price of existing bonds). At the beginning of the year, the aggressive schedule of four rate hikes appeared unlikely. As the impact of the tax cuts appeared to stimulate the economy while the effects of an uncertain quantity of tariffs were yet to be felt, the Fed felt comfortable enough to raise rates.

Markets got spooked in October, when Mr. Powell implied that we were “a long way” from neutral, a rate level that would neither heat up or cool down the economy. That uncertainty, along with other risks like a trade war escalation and a potential hard Brexit, weighed down markets.

In a televised meeting at the Economic Club of New York on Wednesday, Powell was quoted as saying we are now “just below neutral.” I believe this implies the band would be 3-7% (since the historical average is close to 5%). Markets took this as good news, rallying sharply into the second half of the week.

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