Trading Desk: Last Chance For The Fed To Turn Around

The job market remains too hot for the Fed to justify bending on its anti-inflation crusade. But there’s always a chance that the economy will give them what they want in the next few months.

A big interest rate hike next month is practically inevitable at this point. Even if the next PCE reading shows that prices are plateauing, those numbers won’t come out in time to really sway the votes.

The Fed doesn’t just want to see an isolated “cool” month or two. They’re looking for a trend that proves that inflation won’t get out of control again. Maybe after Thanksgiving, their aggressive posture will finally start showing tangible results.

But even then, it’s going to take a miracle to avoid at least one more big rate hike in December. Futures traders have already baked in a total of 1.25 percentage points of tightening before the end of the year . . . which means Wall Street has given up on the Fed flinching.

One way or another, overnight rates are going back above 4% in the next few months. Just about everyone agrees. Even on the Fed, the most dovish person weighing in on rate policy sees at least 0.75 percentage point more on the horizon in the most optimistic scenario.

However, when just about everybody agrees, asset prices usually reflect that near-universal consensus. Stocks and bonds are priced for a higher-rate environment ahead.

That’s neither a buy nor a sell signal. It’s simply a statement that supports the status quo: hold what you have, stay on course.

After all, rates can’t go up forever. Sooner or later, the Fed will stop. And I think that moment will be upon us in the next 120 days.

Remember, the Fed and futures traders alike agree on where rates are going. That means a little less than 4.5% by the end of the year and then one last 0.25 point bump in February.

Inflation is only a little hotter than what the Fed projected back in March. Unemployment is exactly where the central bankers thought it would be at the time.

A hot job market isn’t fatal. They’ll tolerate 3.5% inflation as long as they see prices stop climbing. And given the way inflation is calculated as a year-over-year rate of change, I have a feeling a lot of the price pressure will unwind in late winter or early spring.

At that point, we’ll be a year out from the Ukraine invasion and disruption in global commodity markets. Another winter of high utility costs will be behind us. We just have to get there first.