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@theMarket: Investors Await Fed Week

By Bill SchmickiBerkshires columnist
All eyes will be focused on May's Federal Open Market Committee meeting (FOMC) this week. Most investors are expecting another quarter-point interest rate increase, and there is an ongoing debate over the possibility of another one in June.
Some strategists believe that may be overkill. The fear is that the Fed could break something else if they do. Many already blame the Fed's rapid hiking of interest rates for the troubles within the regional bank area. The value of Silicon Valley Bank's U.S. Treasury bond holdings, for example, fell by billions of dollars as the Fed tightened monetary policy over the last year.
And the banking worries continue. This week, a large San Francisco-based bank, First Republic Bank, saw its stock lose 95 percent of its value. In announcing first-quarter earnings results, First Republic admitted that it had lost more than $100 billion in deposits in the first quarter.
The collapse of SVP and Signature Bank had prompted a run on its deposits as well. Last month, in a bid to stabilize the bank, a group of 11 big banks deposited $30 billion with the beleaguered institution hoping it would solve the problem. Those hopes have been dashed.
First Republic's main business is making large mortgages at low rates to well-heeled borrowers. As such, the bank is buried under a mountain of mispriced loans as interest rates have spiked higher over the last 12 months. To raise cash, they would have to sell off those loans to others at substantial losses, which would only hasten its collapse. U.S. officials are coordinating urgent talks with private-sector banks to come to the rescue. If a deal isn't struck soon the fate of First Republic seems dire at best.
In any case, it is not hard to understand why the fear of breaking something else is quite real right now. This week, the Fed will likely raise rates again. As interest rates continue to rise, no one knows how exposed other entities in the financial sector might be. It has put the Fed in between a rock and a hard place.
Inflation has not come down far enough to convince the Fed to ease its monetary stance. The most recent Personal Consumption Expenditures Index (PCE), which is the Fed's favorite inflation measure, came in as expected, just a bit cooler. In the past, the Fed has made the mistake of easing prematurely, only to raise rates again as inflation reversed and climbed higher. Better be sure, than sorry would about sum up the Fed's policy right now. 
But being sure raises the risks of breaking something, which could have a severe impact on the economy or parts of it like the financial sector. The U.S. economy grew at only a 1.1 percent rate in the first quarter. That was far below the consensus forecasts of 1.9 percent. In the previous two quarters, the economy grew at 2.9 percent and 3.2 percent respectively. It seems clear that the Fed's actions are having the desired effect but is it enough to even pause their rate hikes? That is the question investors are asking.
So far, the Fed has assured us that they have the tools to handle both the problems in the regional bank area, as well as the inflation threat. Some think that kind of thinking smacks of overconfidence. One additional issue that is raising its ugly head is the potential summer debt crisis in Washington.
The Republican-ruled House has passed a debt reduction package that, if passed, would make deep inroads into the Biden Administration's spending programs. That is their price for increasing the debt limit. The proposal is deemed dead on arrival by the Democrat-held Senate, however. As I have written in the past, in my opinion, the entire issue is simply political theater, with the fate of the nation's credit at risk.
If history is any guide, the closer we come to the cliff of default, the more both the bond and equity markets will come unglued. It might require actions by the Fed to calm markets and ensure orderly markets. That could disrupt the central bank’s tightening plans in the months ahead.
Marketwise, the volatility I expected last week has kept the indexes in a trading range. We ended the week a little above where we started. First quarter earnings results so far were better than expected. A handful of large-cap companies (Microsoft, Meta, Google, and Amazon) delivered more positive results than negative. The coming week will be all about the FOMC meeting on Wednesday and Apple results on Thursday. The chop should continue, but I am still looking for higher in the short term.

Bill Schmick is the founding partner of Onota Partners, Inc., in the Berkshires. His forecasts and opinions are purely his own and do not necessarily represent the views of Onota Partners Inc. (OPI). None of his commentary is or should be considered investment advice. Direct your inquiries to Bill at 1-413-347-2401 or email him at bill@schmicksretiredinvestor.com.

Anyone seeking individualized investment advice should contact a qualified investment adviser. None of the information presented in this article is intended to be and should not be construed as an endorsement of OPI, Inc. or a solicitation to become a client of OPI. The reader should not assume that any strategies or specific investments discussed are employed, bought, sold, or held by OPI. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct. Investments in securities are not insured, protected, or guaranteed and may result in loss of income and/or principal. This communication may include opinions and forward-looking statements, and we can give no assurance that such beliefs and expectations will prove to be correct.  



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