@theMarket: Markets Await the 'Skip'
Now that the debt ceiling fiasco is out of the way, markets are returning their focus to monetary policy. The burning question on investors' minds is whether the Fed will skip a rate hike in their upcoming June meeting.
The betting by traders on such a move is vacillating around the 50/50 mark, depending on which Fed Head is talking. In recent days, the market had expected the Fed would lift interest rates once again at its June 13-14 FOMC meeting. This week, however, two policymakers, Fed Governor Philip Jefferson, and Philadelphia Fed President Patrick Harker, expressed their opinions that a pause may be in order unless Friday's jobs report came in stronger than expected.
Their words carry even more authority since Harker is a voting member of the FOMC and Jefferson has been nominated by President Biden to serve as the Fed's vice chair. In that position, he would be expected to aid Chair Jerome Powell in developing his policy decisions before FOMC meetings.
On Friday, the non-farm payroll report showed the economy remained strong with 339,000 jobs created last month, which was way above the expected gain of 195,000 jobs. However, at the same time, the unemployment rate rose from 3.5 percent to 3.7 percent, while hourly earnings month over month were unchanged at 0.3 percent and hourly earnings on a year-over-year basis dropped to 4.3 percent versus 4.4 percent.
The problem with a pause in their program of combating inflation by raising interest rates is that traders will immediately assume that a Fed pause signals an end to further rate hikes. As such, FOMC members are taking great pains to tell markets not to count on that scenario. They say that if they do pause, it is simply a period where policymakers can assess how the economy and the financial sector are weathering past rate hikes.
This "hawkish pause," as the market is dubbing it, should not by itself mean much to the equity markets. And the strong labor gains might also convince the Fed that a pause might be premature. But those risks only come into play in two weeks. However, stock players are so short-term that algo and options traders will likely push markets higher in the meantime. They will anticipate the skip until they are proven wrong.
Over the last several months, government bond auctions have dwindled somewhat as the limit on borrowing crept closer and closer. Now that Congress is extending the ceiling higher, the government will need to raise more money to continue spending on things like social security payments.
In the weeks ahead, I will be monitoring a potential counter-veiling development that could put a damper on equities and a spike in bond yields. The U.S. Treasury needs to raise about a trillion dollars in debt fairly soon. As this supply of bonds hit the markets, yields on debt instruments would rise to accommodate all this extra borrowing. That would be bad for stocks.
I should mention the farce that has occupied all our attention over the last few weeks. The debt ceiling agreement is a travesty. Spending cuts amounted to $1 trillion, but far less than that if one reads the fine print in the actual document. As I expected, the June 1 deadline came and went but not by much. It really didn’t matter because the supposed deadline was extended (at the eleventh hour), which magically has given the politicians the extra time needed for the Senate to pass the bill and the president to sign it.
President Biden, House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, and a host of politicians got their hours of airtime at our expense. The country is no better off, and in two years we will probably have to put up with these same clowns doing the same thing yet again.
Marketwise, I expect the S&P 500 Index to continue to climb, hitting my target of 4,320 or even higher (maybe 4,400 maximum) as traders chase the market up in anticipation of the Skip. Monday and possibly Tuesday could be down days (buy the dip) and then most of the week the S&P should continue to gain. Gold and silver also appear to be ending their period of consolidation. Watch the dollar; if it weakens, precious metals and bitcoin should climb higher from here.