© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: An eagle tops the Federal Reserve building’s facade in Washington, July 31, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
By Mike Dolan
LONDON (Reuters) – It’s Friday the 13th and more than $10 trillion has now been sliced off the value of global stock markets this year while ‘Misery Indexes’ that blend inflation and jobless rates are spiking. Is it already time for central banks to blink?
Markets have started to panic about likely multiple central bank interest rate rises to rein in inflation from 40-year highs. Investors are desperate for any sign of that tightening calculus shifting from price pressures to demand-sapping cost of living squeezes and recession risks.
Conditioned for years to expect easier monetary policy to soften economic or political shocks, savers and speculators have had to adjust this year to the idea that high inflation itself is perhaps the biggest shock and there’s no instant ‘policy put’ afoot.
Far from riding to the rescue of anxious equity and bond markets, central banks have appeared determined to keep tightening. As Societe Generale (OTC:SCGLY) points out, long-term bond yields and tightening financial conditions indices are rising in tandem – unusually, after at least two decades in which yields plunged in response to financial swoons.
But there’s always a policy tipping point if a looming recession itself nixes inflation expectations.
Easing the cost of living squeeze is clearly the political priority. But energy and food prices driven higher by supply constraints may not respond to higher rates, while higher borrowing costs make credit more expensive for poorer households and zap the often over-inflated asset holdings of richer folk.
The year’s two biggest political shocks – Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and China’s zero-Covid lockdowns – exaggerate both inflationary and recessionary forces. But how quickly the demand hit dominates thinking is what markets now have to watch.
The Washington-based Institute for International Finance on Thursday cut its global growth forecasts to show a ‘de facto flatlining’ of the world economy this year, with a contraction in China this quarter.
The Bank of England last week looked like the first of the previously hawkish G7 central banks to hesitate at the near impossible task ahead. Flagging both 10% inflation and a contracting economy by year-end, it nudged up interest rates again but revealed internal splits on the need for more.
Suggesting the BoE’s hesitation is more than warranted, data on Thursday showed the UK economy already unexpectedly contracted in March – even before energy price caps were lifted and tax raised.
While money markets still expect UK policy rates to more than double from here to above 2% next year, 2-year gilt yields are sliding again, dropping more than half a percentage point since the BoE’s meeting to as low as 1.2%. The pound has nosedived more than 3% over the same period and is now down almost 10% this year against the dollar.
Britain may have peculiar domestic problems – including Brexit, a sharp jump in the energy price cap and rising taxes – but many may see it as a poster child for the policy balancing act ahead.
Even as European Central Bank officials talk openly of interest rate rises, markets this week scaled back their expectations of tightening by year-end by 15 basis points to less than 80 bps. Two-year German benchmark yields plunged back to as low as zero from 35 bps.
U.S. Federal Reserve officials appeared to double down on their hawkish rhetoric of multiple 50 bps rate hikes as April inflation of 8.3% again exceeded forecasts while labour markets remain tight.
In contrast to Europe, two-year U.S. Treasury yields held above 2.5% – helping push an already lofty dollar to 20-year highs and tightening global conditions further.
Yet the brewing storm did see U.S. money market estimates of the peak Fed rate next year fall back to as low as 3% from as high as 3.40% earlier this month.
Are cracks appearing as ‘misery’ sets in?
So-called ‘Misery Indexes’ were devised in the late 1960s and are crude aggregators of inflation and unemployment rates designed to capture the extent of household stress. Some add official interest rates to illustrate the ebb and flow of credit costs.
Higher inflation has these seismographs of public disquiet on the move again. Indexes that capture interest rates will jump further in the months ahead if central banks press on. And if inflation doesn’t subside before unemployment rises, then the mix could become explosive.
Of the G7, the UK already looks like the outlier with Britain’s ‘Misery Index’ already at its highest in more than 20 years.
“The BoE is probably the first central bank that has conceded the battle against inflation in favour of saving the economy and the UK consumer from the consequences of a deep recession,” Jefferies strategists told clients.
“Nevertheless, the misery index will start to climb and this is certainly not good for the pound or UK gilts.”
Sterling tailspin as BoE maps 10% inflation and recession
‘Mom & pop’ investors left high and dry in tech, crypto meltdown
Fed fingers crossed for 1994 re-run as hiking path shortens
The author is editor-at-large for finance and markets at Reuters News. Any views expressed here are his own
(by Mike Dolan, Twitter (NYSE:TWTR): @reutersMikeD; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)
Fed’s Evans backs ‘front-loaded’ rate hikes, then measured pace
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans looks on during the Global Interdependence Center Members Delegation Event in Mexico City, Mexico, February 27, 2020. REUTERS/Edgard Garrido
By Dan Burns
(Reuters) – Chicago Federal Reserve Bank President Charles Evans on Tuesday said he supports an initial burst of monetary policy tightening, and then a more “measured” pace of rate hikes to allow time to assess inflation and the impact of higher borrowing costs on the job market.
“I think front-loading is important to speed up the necessary tightening of financial conditions, as well as for demonstrating our commitment to restrain inflation, thus helping to keep inflationary expectations in check,” Evans said in remarks prepared for delivery to Money Marketeers of New York University.
Inflation, running at more than three times the Fed’s 2% target, is “much too high,” Evans said, and the Fed should raise its policy rate “expeditiously” to a neutral range of about 2.25%-2.5%.
Fed policymakers have begun doing so. They raised rates by a bigger-than-usual half-of-a-percentage point earlier this month, to a range of 0.75%-1%, and Fed Chair Jerome Powell signaled at least two more such rate hikes to come. The Fed also plans to start trimming its $9 trillion balance sheet next month.
But Evans’ preference for transitioning to a more “measured pace” – a phrase that in the past has meant quarter-point rate hikes — sounded a bit more dovish than Fed Chair Jerome Powell, who spoke earlier in the day.
The central bank, Powell told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, will keep “pushing” on rate hikes until it sees inflation move down in a “clear and convincing way” and will not hesitate to move more aggressively it that does not happen.
Evans said that slowing the pace of rate hikes after an initial front-loading would give the Fed time to check if supply chain kinks ease, and to evaluate inflation dynamics and the impact of higher borrowing costs on what called a “downright tight” labor market.
Unemployment is at 3.6% and job openings are at a record high.
“If we need to, we will be well positioned to respond more aggressively if inflation conditions do not improve sufficiently or, alternatively, to scale back planned adjustments if economic conditions soften in a way that threatens our employment mandate,” Evans said.
With inflation pressures as broad and strong as they are, he said, interest rates may need to rise “somewhat” above neutral to bring down inflation.
Traders are betting on that, with prices in futures contracts tied to the Fed’s policy rate reflecting expectations for an end-of-year policy rate range of 2.75%-3%.
But in Evans’ view that doesn’t mean the Fed will end up triggering a recession, as critics including several former U.S. central bankers have recently warned.
“Given the current strength in aggregate demand, strong demand for workers, and the supply-side improvements that I expect to be coming, I believe a modestly restrictive stance will still be consistent with a growing economy,” Evans said.
Australian banks enter tech arms race as rising rates squeeze profit
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A view of a Commonwealth Bank of Australia branch in Sydney, Australia, April 18, 2018. REUTERS/Edgar Su
By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY (Reuters) – The 10-minute home loan – at the tap of a smartphone screen – is emerging as the next frontier in Australian banking as rising interest rates quash a pandemic-fuelled property boom, eating into mortgage income and renewing focus on cost-cutting tech.
The Big Four lenders booked blockbuster profit during the COVID-19 pandemic due to a leap of nearly one-third in property prices since 2020, but raging inflation brought a shock rate hike this month and expectations of several more.
That has left banks, which make most of their profit from mortgages, looking to automate every step of the loan process and cut overheads such as staffing and real estate to keep growing profit from what analysts say may be a shrinking pool of money.
So far only Commonwealth Bank of Australia (OTC:CMWAY) (CBA), the biggest lender, has put a speed target on its automation drive. It said a fully digitised loan service that went live on Tuesday could process an application in as little as 10 minutes.
But in earnings updates this month, National Australia Bank (OTC:NABZY) Ltd (NAB), Westpac Banking (NYSE:WBK) Corp and Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Ltd (ANZ) all pointed to automation to offset the impact of a cooling property market.
“They’re incentivised to invest in tech and get up to where CBA is because it drives people online,” said Hugh Dive, chief investment officer at Atlas (NYSE:ATCO) Funds Management, which holds shares of major banks.
“They can improve profit without growing their top line.”
Citi banking analyst Brendan Sproules in a client note said chief executive officers face an “endless battle to transform their 1970s/80s process and systems into the modern digital age”.
“A rising cash rate might just provide the opportunity to accelerate this transformation along faster than we first thought.”
Instead of filling in paper forms and supplying documents, to be verified and analysed by back-office staff, a customer would enter the address of a property they planned to buy plus their bank account login. Their computer or smartphone camera would confirm their identity.
Algorithms figure out the rest, such as employment history and probable purchase price.
A bank employee only steps in if the software picks up discrepancies in the data, people who work on loan automation software said.
Some smaller and online-only lenders already automate mortgage applications but – until now – not the Big Four, which dominate Australia’s A$10 trillion ($7.00 trillion) housing market with three-quarters of loans by value.
“What we’re seeing right now is a lot of optimisation using existing processes, using existing loan origination systems,” said Hessel Verbeek, head of banking strategy at KPMG Australia.
“The room for improvement will include when people actually start to replace some of the key systems.”
Banks have not specified how much money they plan to spend automating mortgage approvals, nor how much they would save.
Of the A$3.6 billion the Big Four invested in the first half of the 2022 financial year, 35% went to “productivity and growth”, versus 32% a year earlier, showed data from KPMG.
NAB, the second-biggest lender, said last week its “investment in customer experience, efficiency and sustainable revenue” rose 46% in October-March from the same period a year earlier, to A$228 million. It said it wants every home loan automated by 2024.
ANZ, which has been losing mortgages for two years as understaffing led to a surge in approval times, said it has only begun work digitising processes.
“There’s no doubt we’ve got some catching up to do,” CEO Shayne Elliott was quoted as saying in The Australian.
Banks were slow to start automating retail products partly because large compliance and risk management overhauls sapped both investment budgets and management attention since regulatory scrutiny dramatically increased in 2018, analysts and industry participants said.
Rebecca Engel, head of Microsoft Corp (NASDAQ:MSFT)’s Australian financial services unit, said there was a “massive increase in investment, deployment, acceptance and trust in technology” by banks in tandem with heightened regulatory attention and higher transaction volume during the pandemic.
“The goal should be higher levels of assurance, higher levels of quality, at a lower cost,” Engel told Reuters.
“That is driven by technology.”
($1 = 1.4282 Australian dollars)
Wall Street ends sharply higher, fueled by Apple
© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A Wall Street sign is pictured outside the New York Stock Exchange in New York, October 28, 2013. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri
By Amruta Khandekar and Noel Randewich
(Reuters) – Wall Street finished sharply higher on Tuesday, lifted by Apple, Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) and other megacap growth stocks after strong retail sales in April eased worries about slowing economic growth.
Ten of the 11 major S&P sector indexes advanced, with financials, materials and technology among the top performers.
Investors were cheered by data showing U.S. retail sales increased 0.9% in April as consumers bought motor vehicles amid an improvement in supply and frequented restaurants.
Tuesday’s broad rally followed weeks of selling on the U.S. stock market that last week saw the S&P 500 sink to its lowest level since March 2021.
“The largest pockets of stocks that investors tend to buy have been essentially beaten up. They’re either in correction or bear market territory,” said Sylvia Jablonski, chief investment officer of Defiance ETF. “I think investors are looking at these opportunities to buy on the dip, and I suspect that today is a good day to do that.”
Another set of economic data showed industrial production accelerated 1.1% last month, higher than estimates of 0.5%, and faster than a 0.9% advance in March.
“This is consistent with continued economic growth in the second quarter and not a recession underway,” said Bill Adams, chief economist for Comerica (NYSE:CMA) Bank in Dallas.
The U.S. Federal Reserve will “keep pushing” to tighten U.S. monetary policy until it is clear inflation is declining, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said at an event on Tuesday.
Traders are pricing in an 85% chance of a 50-basis point rate hike in June.
According to preliminary data, the S&P 500 gained 81.54 points, or 2.03%, to end at 4,089.55 points, while the Nasdaq Composite gained 323.23 points, or 2.77%, to 11,986.02. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 432.62 points, or 1.35%, to 32,659.17.
Walmart (NYSE:WMT) Inc tumbled after the retail giant cut its annual profit forecast, signaling a bigger hit to margins.
United Airlines Holdings (NASDAQ:UAL) Inc gained after the carrier lifted its current-quarter revenue forecast, boosting shares of Delta Air, American Airlines (NASDAQ:AAL) and Spirit Airlines (NYSE:SAVE).
A positive first-quarter earnings season has been overshadowed by worries about the conflict in Ukraine, soaring inflation, COVID-19 lockdowns in China and aggressive policy tightening by central banks.
The S&P 500 is down about 14% so far in 2022, and the Nasdaq is off around 24%, hit by tumbling growth stocks.
U.S.-listed Chinese stocks jumped on hopes that China will ease its crackdown on the technology sector.
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