The Federal Reserve Bank signaled an all-clear for the financial markets this week. The tapering they promised will begin on schedule, but Fed Chairperson Jerome Powell has no plans to raise interest rates until at least some time next year.
The announcement was met with relief. Investors reacted by catapulting the stock market to yet another higher high. Bond traders were somewhat mollified, as well as seen by the lack of movement in interest rates. If anything, Chair Powell was a bit more dovish than investors expected.
He surprised markets by reducing the size of the monthly taper, which will begin later this month. At present, the U.S. Central Bank is buying $120 billion a month in assets. Investors were expecting a $20 billion monthly reduction in purchases, but the Fed decided to reduce those purchases by only $15 billion a month.
It appears that the rate of inflation is still not serious enough for the Federal Reserve to move forward their expectations on raising interest rates. Next summer is the earliest Powell sees a need to raise interest rates. However, he did admit that he expects the conditions that are pushing inflation higher could persist well into next year.
His stance is similar to the position already taken by the European Central Bank (ECB). The ECB expects to continue its easy money policies into next year. But while most of the developed world is applying the momentary brakes ever so gradually, many emerging market countries are already raising interest rates to head off rising inflation in their economies. Chile, Russia, and Brazil, for example, have hiked interest rates recently. Of the 38 central banks followed by the Bank for International Settlements, 13 have raised a key interest rate at least once this year.
Investors are paying close attention to the stalled situation surrounding the two large Biden infrastructure bills after the resounding thrashing the Democrats suffered this week in various elections. Voters seem to be increasingly unhappy with what they perceive as their "do nothing." President Biden's approval ratings are dismal, and time is running out to reverse the situation before the mid-term elections.
It remains to be seen whether this week's election results will spur this fractured party to come together and start legislating or sink further into disarray. The House is expected to vote on at least one if not both bills on Friday, Nov. 5.
There is a lot riding on the outcome for the economy and the markets. And while the price tag for both bills is high, as a percentage of GDP, in reality the expenditures are a drop in the bucket when compared to what other countries are spending on their own infrastructure plans. Is it any wonder that China sees us as no more than a "paper tiger," whose politicians lack the will to compete in the areas that really matter?
Earnings season is winding down, but once again the results defied even the most bullish of expectations. That bodes well for stocks. More and more sectors are participating in the upturn and there doesn't seem to be many storm clouds on the horizon until we head into December, if then. This week's decline in oil may also act as a tailwind for stocks. Higher energy prices have been leading inflation higher for the last few months. If oil pulls back from here, or just remains in a trading range, equities could get a boost from that as well.
To me, however, the most important event of the week was drug company Pfizer's announcement that Paxlovid, a COVID-19 pill, reduced the risk of hospitalization or death by 80 percent in a clinical trial that tested the drug in adults with the disease who were also in high-risk health groups.
Pfizer CEO and Chairman, Albert Bourla, said, "These data suggest that our oral antiviral candidate, if approved or authorized by regulatory authorities, has the potential to save patients' lives, reduce the severity of COVID-19 infections, and eliminate nine out of 10 hospitalizations." To me, this pill could be a game changer for the economy and for people all over the world. It is possible that we could see the coronavirus battle won by sometime next year.
I have been expecting a shallow pullback in the markets for the past two weeks. Instead, stocks have just climbed higher and higher. They are extended, but history says they can get even more so. As such, I am not holding my breath, nor waiting around for it. Whatever pullback does occur should be bought.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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