Daily Brief For May 2, 2023

Inflation falls begrudgingly. Higher rates coming!


First Republic Bank (NYSE: FRC) is in the news for its failure. FRC was known for handing out mortgages at rock-bottom rates. When interest rates rose, the bank’s book of mortgages was hurt and left it with not enough to suffice withdrawals. 

“FRC believed its business model of extraordinary customer service and product pricing would result in superior customer loyalty through all cycles,” wrote Timothy Coffey of Janney Montgomery Scott. “Instead, too many FRC customers showed their true loyalties were to their own fears.”

This “marks the second-biggest bank failure in U.S. history, behind the 2008 collapse of Washington Mutual Inc.,” reports WSJ; after the instability in March, the bank finally succumbed to the Federal Reserve’s (Fed) rate increases and depositor worry.

JPMorgan Chase & Co (NYSE: JPM) acquired the bulk of FRC’s operations.

Graphic: Retrieved from JPM. See a nice summary by @brandonjcarl.

Further, research shows money is getting tighter, a headwind for the economy, while inflation is sticky and the Fed’s bond holdings are preventing tightening from being effective; WSJ reports the Fed’s balance sheet loaded with bonds may be insulating stocks from interest rate policies. 

“Quantitative easing locked the Fed into a position that is difficult to unwind,” said Stephen Miran of Amberwave Partners. Quantitative easing, or QE, made stocks less sensitive to interest rates. “It’s made tightening both slower and less effective than it should have been.”

Graphic: Retrieved from Bloomberg. The Fed’s favorite measure of inflation, the core PCE index, has been consistently stuck around 4-5% since 2022. The employment cost index, which shows wage growth at around 4-5%, is inconsistent with a 2% inflation target.

Not “adjusting balance-sheet policy,” but raising rates to 5.00-5.25% as expected, ‘is akin to “hitting the same nail with a hammer over and over again.’” Therefore, stocks, which are higher alongside surprising economic and earnings data, though risky, can do “ok” for longer, comments Andy Constan of Damped Spring Advisors.

Graphic: Retrieved from CME Group Inc’s (NASDAQ: CME) FedWatch Tool.

The sale of volatility bolsters the stability and emboldens upside bettors, adds JPM’s Marko Kolanovic, who finds “selling of options forces intraday reversion, leaving the market price virtually unchanged many days.”

Graphic: Retrieved from Goldman Sachs Group Inc (NYSE: GS).

“This, in turn, drives buying of stocks by funds that mechanically increase exposure when volatility declines (e.g., volatility targeting and risk parity funds),” he elaborates. “This market dynamic artificially suppresses perceptions of fundamental macro risks. The low hurdle rate and robust fundamentals bode well for 1Q earnings results, but we advise using any market strength on reporting to reduce exposure.”

At this juncture, yes, stocks can move sideways or higher for a bit longer as a function of “momentum, not value,” Simplify Asset Management’s Michael Green concludes. Traders can position for this and various levels of potential upset later with structures included in a report we published last week.


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