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A Gift for the Holiday Season!

A cautious start to the month of November after the FOMC’s (Federal Open Market Committee) meeting and policy rates guidance on November 2nd proved to be short lived. Investor enthusiasm was re-ignited after the US inflation report showed that the headline inflation in the US declined even lower than the expected rate of +7.9% to +7.7% from the previous +8.2%. The report for Canada showed that inflation in the country stayed flat at +6.9%, keeping in line with the expectations and last month’s readings of +6.9%. Investor enthusiasm grew on expectations that if inflation has taken a turn, the case for the pace of policy rates hikes to decline in the coming months has become stronger. The fixed income asset class also gained after bond yields at the long end of the curve declined. The inversion of the yield curve, however, deepened after bond yields at the short end of the curve continued to advance given that the policy rates are still expected to advance, albeit at a lower pace.

Historically, an inversion of yield curve has been usually followed by an economic recession (See Figure 1). Given that the extent of current inversion is very deep and the last time this level of inversion was witnessed was during the late seventies or early eighties, the argument that the much-anticipated recession in 2023 will be deep and long, has gained ground. The conditions such as a spike in commodity prices, increasing interest rates, along with a yield curve inversion, do indicate that a recession is on the horizon. However, we believe the jury is still out the on the length and extent of a recession. The sooner that inflation falls back to targeted levels, the less need there is to keep interest rates in the restrictive territory for long. In our view, this lowers the chances of a deep and prolonged economic contraction.

Figure 1: US yield curve inversions and recessions

(Jan-1977 to Nov-2022)

Figure 1: US yield curve inversions and recessions
Source: Bloomberg

The impact of higher interest rates on the real economy is now increasingly becoming visible and will eventually manifest as lower earning expectations for corporations. The news of mass firings and hiring freezes by large corporations has hogged the limelight in the recent weeks. This indicates that the unemployment rate will increase, which, on one hand this means lower inflationary pressures, and on the other hand, means a tough operating economic environment. The Institute of Supply Management’s (ISM PMI) manufacturing Index slipped into contraction territory (49 in November from 50.2 in October). A reading above 50 indicates the manufacturing activity is expected to expand and a reading lower than 50 indicates the manufacturing activity is expected to contract.

Notwithstanding the deteriorating fundamentals, having been fixated on inflation and policy rates through the year, the markets are now staging a relief rally as inflation seems to have finally taken a turn and the Central Banks have begun to signal their willingness to reduce the pace of interest rate hikes. This gift could not have come at a more opportune time as investors have been waiting for the Santa Claus rally in anticipation. We wish our readers a Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays.

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