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What you need to know about this week’s Fed meeting

We break down what the Fed's stance on rate hikes, inflation and the market sell-off will mean for investors.

Our Top Market Takeaways for Jan 28, 2022.


It’s not yet Groundhog Day, but…

This week in markets felt similar to last. The S&P 500 had lost another -1.6% through Thursday’s close, and the Federal Reserve’s evolving policy stance remained at the root of investor consternation. 

More on the Fed in a moment. First, what tells us that this bout of volatility isn’t being driven by something scarier, such as a budding recession?

Looking at market price action outside of U.S. stocks offers some insight. Treasury yields have risen, with the two-year popping +18 basis points on the week. Credit spreads, which reflect the amount of compensation investors demand for lending money to riskier borrowers, haven’t moved much at all. Economically sensitive commodities such as copper are holding up fine, and stock indices that are more closely tied to the real economy (e.g., Europe’s Stoxx 600 and the MSCI Emerging Markets Index) are outperforming the tech-heavy U.S. indices year-to-date. If the growth outlook was the real issue weighing on investor sentiment, we would expect to see safe-haven Treasuries rallying, with their yields moving lower, credit risk rising and cyclical assets getting hit harder.

Furthermore, the macro backdrop still looks strong. Our outlook called out healthy business and consumer balance sheets as the foundation of our optimistic growth outlook, and that hasn’t changed. The percentage of Americans planning to buy a home sometime in the next six months hit a 16-year high earlier this week, and the gap between real corporate borrowing rates and trend growth remains wide enough to continue incentivizing investment. Even as the Fed starts to remove policy support this year, we think the potential drag on economic growth and corporate profitability will be limited in 2022. 

But if the economic backdrop isn’t being significantly threatened, why is the market reacting so strongly to the Fed?


What we learned from the Fed this week

Anyone hoping for the Fed to slant dovish in light of the market sell-off had those hopes dashed during Chairman Jerome Powell’s FOMC press conference this week. Although the statement released before Powell’s Q&A session was in line with market expectations, his comments were decidedly more hawkish. A few examples:

  • On the pace of rate hikes: At this point, take it as a given that the Fed will deliver a hike coming out of its March meeting. In terms of how many more hikes we’ll get in 2022 after that, Powell used the rate hiking cycle that started in 2015 as a foil. Back then, the FOMC increased rates no more than once a quarter. But today’s labor market is stronger (the unemployment rate was at 5% then versus 3.9% now), and inflation is running at its fastest pace in decades. The insinuation being, rate hikes may come in quicker succession versus the quarterly pace the market was expecting based on the last go-around.
  • On the inflation outlook from here: Powell pointed out that between last month and today, price pressures have perhaps grown even stronger. We didn’t get a refreshed set of economic projections out of this meeting, but the Chairman noted that his own outlook for inflation had risen in recent weeks. It’s worth reminding ourselves how much the Fed’s perspective has shifted in just a few short months. In the fall, messaging focused on the need to keep policy easy to support further recovery in the labor market. Today, the messaging highlights a strong labor market and a pressing need to combat inflation by tightening.
  • On the market sell-off: When asked about the recent volatility and resultant (albeit modest) tightening of financial conditions, Powell emphasized that the FOMC looks at conditions across the board—not just the component that’s influenced by stock market moves. Financial conditions haven’t actually moved much overall, and they remain very easy relative to history. Bottom line: The sell-off isn’t influencing the Fed’s thinking at this point. 

In response to Powell’s hawkish tone, the market moved its 2022 rate hike expectations from four to five by the end of the presser—another step up in what’s already been a rapid climb in expectations since September. In our view, that’s what the stock market has been reacting to. 

The coming rate liftoff hasn’t changed our 2022 earnings per share growth expectations, but it has driven S&P 500 valuations below our year-end outlook level (19.3x future earnings versus 19.5x). To us, this means that this sell-off presents compelling entry points for investors looking to invest cash on the sidelines or rotate exposures. In fact, our Chief Investment Officer just used the drawdown as an opportunity to increase the overweight to equities in the multi-asset portfolios we manage.

Volatility may persist in the near term as markets continue to digest the shifts in the Fed’s policy stance, and we used last week’s note to discuss how investors might consider navigating it

One of the key takeaways was a reminder that market sell-offs of this magnitude happen more often than you might think. Decades of market history have taught us that volatility can be sparked by a number of different dynamics, but also that it’s normal. Don’t let it derail your longer-term financial plan; stay invested.  

All market and economic data as of January 2022 and sourced from Bloomberg and FactSet unless otherwise stated.

We believe the information contained in this material to be reliable but do not warrant its accuracy or completeness. Opinions, estimates, and investment strategies and views expressed in this document constitute our judgment based on current market conditions and are subject to change without notice.


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All market and economic data as of January 2022 and sourced from Bloomberg and FactSet unless otherwise stated.

The information presented is not intended to be making value judgments on the preferred outcome of any government decision.

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