Risk returned for investors, pushing U.S. equity indices 2-4% higher last week. The Fed meeting this week is priority for rate concerns. U.S. Treasury yields continued their rally on the heels of positive economic developments. President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package and announced an expedited vaccination schedule, stating all adults would be eligible to receive one by May 1. The Nasdaq rebounded from a 3-week slide, advancing 3.09% last week. The S&P finished 2.64% higher on the week, and sitting at an all-time high. And the Dow Jones index finished up 4.17% on the week.
Positive consumer inflation data slowed the speed of the rising yields, with headline CPI coming in at +1.7% YoY. The yield curve steepened to a 5.5 year high. The Treasury sell-off continued last week as President Biden signed the latest coronavirus relief bill into law. This raised the yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury to the highest levels since before the pandemic.
At $1.9 trillion, this is the largest of the coronavirus stimulus bills. President Biden’s urging of states to make the vaccine available to all adults by May 1 has further boosted economic growth prospects. High growth and inflation have contributed to the increase in long-term yields. Initial jobless claims were better than expected. This was the lowest level of initial claims this year, 712,000. More states have eased covid restrictions. And the Johnson & Johnson single shot vaccine increases the shot distribution to the masses. A clearer path to full recovery is well within sight.
The Week Ahead and the Fed
The Fed meets today and tomorrow. Will Fed Chairman Jerome Powell and the FOMC flap their dovish wings, or will hawkish commentary fly over financial markets? It is widely expected that the Fed will leave rates unchanged. Short-term rate markets are pricing the first rate hike in late 2022 and markedly higher rates in 2023. While the Fed has pledged to keep rates at or near zero until at least the end of 2023.
After the European Central Bank pledged to ramp up its bond purchases last week, it seems likely that Powell could forcibly push back on rate investors’ hawkish expectations. Undoubtedly, Fed officials’ latest economic projections may show stronger growth estimates, but labor market figures could temper optimism. Many believe the rally in long-term government bond yields is most concerning to Fed officials, but they have said the rise in yields is likely transitory and tied to expectations of rapid growth in coming quarters.
The Fed Impact of Rates
The Fed’s well-anchored expectations allow for such temporary shocks. After all, the Fed isn’t a day-trader. In reality, the short-end of the curve remains notably disconnected from Fed guidance, which may likely merit a response from them this week. The rout in technology stocks has resulted in a positioning washout. So a dovish Fed response could ignite a push higher where the Nasdaq leads the pack. A hawkish tilt could spark volatility, sending equities lower and yields higher.
Markets hate uncertainty, but consensus is quickly growing for higher yields. Markets’ numbness to yields rising may only grow as the narrative changes. This is often how markets process new information. Initially, higher yields were viewed as detrimental to high valuation growth stocks, but now investors are seemingly viewing them as a signal the economy’s health is improving rapidly.
Year-to-date index performance; Dow up 7.10%, S&P up 5.99%, and Nasdaq up 3.35% through the close on Friday.
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