The Fed Got What It Wanted

The Federal Reserve’s war against inflation took a wild turn over the past week…

In this war, the Fed has taken an aggressive approach. The central bank has raised its key short-term federal funds rate an unprecedented 460 basis points over the past 12 months.

And last Tuesday, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said more rate hikes were in store.

Then… something broke.

Powell quickly walked back his statement when both stocks and bonds sold off sharply. And by now, you likely all know what happened next…

The stage was set for a 48-hour run on Silicon Valley Bank. Through a lack of risk management and hubris, the California-based bank was unprepared for massive depositor withdrawals.

The stunning collapse of the 16th-largest bank in the U.S. has thrown a gut punch into the stock market. And it caused volatility to spike in recent days…

The Chicago Board Options Exchange’s Volatility Index (“VIX”) is a popular measure of market volatility. It’s often referred to as the “fear gauge” for stocks.

When the VIX is high, it signals that uncertainty in the market is elevated. And when it’s low, it indicates that investors aren’t too worried about the market.

A week ago, the VIX was below 20 – which is relatively low. But after Silicon Valley Bank’s collapse, it surged. It climbed to as high as nearly 30 on Monday.

Now, the Fed faces a serious problem…

The Consumer Price Index (“CPI”) and Producer Price Index (“PPI”) numbers from January suggested that the Fed had more work to do to rein in inflation. But its primary weapon in that war – persistent rate hikes – has now put our banking system’s stability into question.

Meanwhile, stocks are in a short-term tailspin…

The S&P 500 Index closed Monday at about 3,855. That’s a drop of nearly 5% from the previous Monday. And now, the benchmark index is down roughly 6% from where it traded a month ago.

It’s worth noting that the S&P 500 is still up around 1% in 2023. It started the year at around 3,840. And as you might recall, it closed as high as 4,179 in early February.

Despite all that, inflation is still the driving narrative behind our economy.

The February CPI and PPI reports just came out. And the data was mixed…

It showed a 6% year-over-year increase for CPI. That’s down from 6.4% a month ago.

Meanwhile, PPI clocked in at 4.6% over the previous year. That’s down from a 5.7% year-over-year increase in January.

So these reports didn’t come in “hotter” than expected. But inflation is still running a lot hotter than the Fed wants. And that will weigh on the decision-makers at the next Federal Open Market Committee meeting on March 21 and 22.

Here’s what everything means for us…

Investors should expect heightened volatility in the weeks ahead. The stock market is still sorting out what higher rates mean for the economy and the banking system.

And importantly… our “bullish” market thesis isn’t dead – it’s just derailed.

As the events of the past week have unexpectedly unfolded, it has led to elevated fear and panic in the market – particularly in the financials sector. Comparisons to 2000 and 2008 are everywhere, with dire forecasts running rampant in the media.

But notably, stocks are still well above their October lows. So with panic in the air, now might be a good time to heed the advice of legendary investor Warren Buffett…

Be fearful when others are greedy… and greedy when others are fearful.”

Throwing caution to the wind is never a good idea. But I’ve often seen fear trap investors as the pendulum swings back to greed. And we don’t want to get trapped.

Put simply, the Power Gauge still sees numerous “bullish” and “very bullish” opportunities in this market. And as always, I’ll use it to help me find and act on those opportunities.

Good investing,

Marc Chaikin

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