Need to Know: Out-of-equilibrium economy will keep the Fed ‘hostage’ to stock market, strategist argues
Out-of-equilibrium economy will keep the Fed ‘hostage’ to stock market, strategist argues
By Steve Goldstein
Critical information for the U.S. trading day
susan walsh/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
It’s the time of year to look back over the last 12 months, but one strategist reached back to the 19th century to describe what’s going on.
In 1898, Swedish economist Knut Wicksell said equilibrium was only attained if the marginal return on capital is the same as the cost of money, notes Kit Juckes, the London-based head of currency strategy for French bank Société Générale. (Here’s a nice summary of Wicksell’s views, from the St. Louis Federal Reserve.)
Fast-forward a bit, and Juckes points out that the yield on the U.S. 10-year Treasury has averaged 6.2% over the last 50 years. During that time period, nominal gross domestic product growth (real GDP growth plus inflation), also has averaged 6.2%.
That is, of course, a far cry from present conditions, where the 10-year yield can’t break 1%, and the economy has been contracting over the last 12 months. And even over the last decade, 10-year yields have been trailing GDP growth.
Juckes nearly summarizes what has happened. “Central banks spent the 1980s getting inflation under control, but the 1990s saw the emergence of downward pressure on CPI [consumer price index] inflation in particular, from a number of sources: baby boomers entered the labor force, the Soviet Union’s collapse massively boosted Europe’s labor force, China’s entry into the world economy changed supply of a host of goods, technology had a similar effect and for good measure, labor unions became far less powerful,” he writes.
After the 2008-09 financial crisis and during the COVID-19 pandemic, “interest rates are glued to the floor.” But even as inflation is under control, Juckes says it is obvious economies aren’t in equilibrium, as low interest rates have sent “asset prices into orbit. And while that is lovely for those who own assets, it increases inequality, fuels political division between asset-rich and asset-poor, and leaves the Fed hostage to equity markets because they can’t afford to trigger a correction in indices that would send the U.S. economy back into recession. That gives markets far too much power over policy,” he says.
The next rate hike cycle will peak even lower than the last one — the effective Fed funds rate was 2.4% in 2019 — “because equity valuations will make it so.” Juckes says this disequilibrium will leave the global economy fragile and prone to another crisis.
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