Trading Desk: All Eyes On The Fed

We’ve been watching the futures market closely to see exactly how much of Wall Street’s “Fed dread” is justified. In a few days, we might see interest rates finally edge higher one last time . . . and then start going down.

The latest inflation numbers weren’t great, but they weren’t hot enough to force the Fed’s hand. There’s room for a pause and thanks to the last few weeks of pain in the banking industry there’s no sane reason to push the issue much further.

After over a decade of almost uninterrupted zero-rate policy, last year’s aggressive tightening campaign evidently broke a few financial institutions. From here, maintaining course is likely to make things worse.

And unless everyone at the Fed has gone crazy, gambling with the entire banking system is not exactly their style. Remember, Jay Powell got to vote on expanding the FDIC protection limits on Silicon Valley Bank deposits and extending additional emergency credit to everyone else.

He’s clearly paying attention. And he’s clearly concerned. So if you see anyone talking about Fed dread and higher interest rates from here, take their arguments with a grain of salt . . . and don’t buy anything they’re selling.

The real question here is whether the economy is already lurching into a deep freeze. Rate futures suggest that the Fed could start cutting to fend off that kind of recession as early as May, effectively reversing any final rate hike we see next week.

By June, rates will probably be back where they are now. And as the summer goes on, the odds of additional loosening get bigger and bigger.

Smart money currently thinks the Fed will give up an entire percentage point by December. That’s not going to be a return to the free money party of the pandemic era, but then again, we’ve seen that the economy can hold up under those conditions.

After all, Silicon Valley Bank didn’t melt down six months ago when overnight rates were roughly where the futures market projects they’ll be in December. We can get through that.

But needless to say, it could be a bumpy road. Stay liquid. Avoid taking on a lot of debt if you can help it. And try to invest with a timeline 6-9 months out. That’s when we’ll start to see the light . . . provided inflation recedes and the Fed can let us all take a deep breath.