Recently, the 2-year Treasury yield has experienced dramatic fluctuations, drawing comparisons to the behavior of meme stocks, such as GameStop and AMC. Top strategist Emily Roland at John Hancock Investment Management attributed these market swings to investor uncertainty surrounding the Federal Reserve’s future decisions on interest rates.
The Inverted Yield Curve: A Message for the Fed
An inverted yield curve is raising concerns among market analysts, with Roland suggesting that it indicates the Federal Reserve is making an error by not lowering interest rates. This curve, she says, demonstrates that the bond market is in disarray and lacks direction.
Despite the challenges, the U.S. labor market remains a shining example of economic resilience. However, Roland warns that there are visible cracks in the market’s armor, with layoffs and jobless claims rising. Moreover, the Fed’s tightening measures will eventually impact the labor market, potentially leading to a downturn.
The Tricky Late-Cycle Environment: A Market Roller Coaster
Market volatility is partly due to conflicting economic data in what Roland calls the “trickiest” part of the cycle. The 2-year yield fluctuations, ranging from 3.6% to over 4% since early March, reflect this inconsistency.
Roland believes the bond market is currently pricing in a 25 basis point rate hike in May, followed by three rate cuts totaling 75 basis points in 2023. That differs from the Fed’s predictions, which do not foresee rate cuts until 2025.
Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell hinted at a possible 50 basis point rate hike in March to counter high inflation. However, the 2-year yield fell after Powell appeared to reverse his position.
The subsequent failure of Silicon Valley Bank and Signature Bank and the banking crisis affecting regional lenders such as First Republic Bank led investors to anticipate a Fed rate cut.
Corporate Earnings and Unemployment: A Tenuous Relationship
As corporate earnings face increased pressure, companies may resort to layoffs to preserve their profit margins. Roland suggests that this could cause a rise in unemployment data, ultimately prompting the Fed to cut rates and initiate a new economic cycle.
In conclusion, the current late-cycle period presents investors a confusing and challenging landscape. Market uncertainty is characterized by fluctuations in the 2-year Treasury yield, ambiguity surrounding the Fed’s future moves, and an inverted yield curve. Investors must remain vigilant and attentive to shifting economic indicators as the market continues to tread water.