Rate Cuts May No Longer be Imminent and Investors are Treading Water: Market Commentary from Cabana’s CEO – February 8, 2024 

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The market cap-weighted stock indices continue to march higher after a brief pullback in early January. This continues to be led by technology stocks, while most other sectors are underperforming. Bonds, real estate, utilities, dividend paying stocks and other interest rate sensitive assets remain under pressure as yields have bounced above 4% again.  

Chairman Powell and other members of the Federal Reserve (the Fed) have essentially taken all prospects of a rate cut in March off the table. I read this week that one of the voting members forecast only two or three rate cuts this year compared to the seven priced in by the bond market at the end of 2023. That is a big difference and is why we are seeing the snap back higher in interest rates. The hawkish Fed is supported by better-than-expected data in the form of manufacturing, unemployment and consumer sentiment. To me, the message from the Fed meeting has been clear that rates aren’t coming down until it is confident that inflation is coming back down to the 2% target. Year-over-year Core PCE (the Fed’s preferred measure) is now 2.93% and falling. The month-over-month number is 0.2%, and results in an annualized number of 2.4%. This data seems to be a bit of a sticking point for the decision makers. This fact, coupled with the strong growth we continue to see as companies churn through earnings season, seems to suggest that investors shouldn’t get too optimistic that cuts are imminent. After all, why cut if you don’t have to, right? 

Well, the problem with that thinking is that real rates are way above inflation now and this will ultimately squeeze all parts of the economy. Incoming data lags and there is much debate about when these effects are going to show up. If the restrictive policy continues for too long, we get the recession and all that comes with it. Right now, we just appear to be treading water as fireworks go off around us in the form of war, spiraling debt, our government’s inability to function and more… 

So, what is an investor to do? At the moment, it looks like the default decision is to buy big tech and not worry about the rest. I see that in the charts, and I hear it from investors every day. This plan has worked well over the past year, and I am not going to be the one to say it won’t continue. I will say that the big tech trade looks awfully crowded. When things get too easy (or obvious), my experience has been that somebody is going to end up in pain. I will also say that having exposure (even overweight exposure) to technology makes sense, but let’s not forget the other side of that coin. When high beta investments fall, they can fall hard.  

I personally like staying well diversified and holding some of those out of favor sectors, which may seem awfully attractive when rates do come down, with or without an accompanying recession. 

At Cabana, we remain in our Transitional Bullish Scene and are allocated accordingly across all models.

Key terms: What does it mean to be hawkish? Hawks are seen as willing to allow interest rates to rise in order to keep inflation under control (Investopedia.com).  


January 17, 2024

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