Daily Comment (August 11, 2023)

by Patrick Fearon-Hernandez, CFA, and Thomas Wash

[Posted: 9:30 AM EDT] | PDF

Today’s Comment discusses the following key topics: why the Federal Reserve may be closer to reaching its 2% inflation target than investors realize, our concerns about the regional banking system, and how rising crime in South America complicates U.S. efforts to build closer ties in the region.

 It Gets Better: Thursday’s CPI report not only reinforced investors’ views that the Fed may be nearing the end of its hiking cycle, but also suggests that monetary policy may need to ease next year.

  • The Consumer Price Index (CPI) increased 3.2% in July from the previous year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The reading was above the previous month’s increase of 3.0% but below consensus estimates of 3.3%. Core inflation numbers were also impressive, declining from 4.8% to 4.7%. The reacceleration in the headline inflation number is likely due to base effect changes, which may not carry over to the next month. Meanwhile, the core CPI continues to be propped up by reporting lags in shelter data.
  • Despite both price gauges being well above the Fed’s inflation target of 2.0%, there is growing optimism that the Federal Reserve may not need to raise rates again this year. The monthly reading shows that headline inflation rose at an annual rate consistent with 2.3%, while core inflation rose at a pace consistent with 1.9%. The market took the CPI report positively as traders loaded up on bets that the central bank was going to pause in September. The CME FedWatch Tool shows that there is over a 90% chance that policymakers will leave rates unchanged at their next meeting.

  • Inflation is falling more quickly than most people realize. The July report shows that consumer prices have only risen 2.5% from the previous year after removing shelter, which accounts for over a third of the index weight, from core CPI. This discrepancy may continue going into next year, as it typically takes about 12-18 months for housing data to make its way into the CPI index. Additionally, if the San Francisco Fed is correct that shelter prices will fall into negative territory in 2024, it could mean that central bank policymakers may need to cut rates to avoid deflation.

Regional Bank Troubles: Nearly five months after the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SIVBQ, $0.15), small and midsized banks are still struggling to stand on their own.

  • Regional banks will continue to struggle as long as the Federal Reserve keeps interest rates in restrictive territory. This is because higher interest rates force banks to increase the amount they pay for deposits, which lowers their net interest margins. As a result, banks are not able to lend at the same levels, which could lead to slower economic growth. However, if the Fed commits to offering banks liquidity, it is unlikely that there will be a financial crisis any time soon. That said, regional banks’ inability to offer attractive savings rates to maintain deposits will leave them vulnerable to disintermediation.

Southern Uncertainty: Rising crime in South America is making it more difficult for the United States to build alliances with countries in the region that share its belief in democracy.

  • Rising violence within South America complicates the Biden administration’s efforts to expand its regional influence. President Biden has made “democracy versus autocracy” the organizing principle of his foreign policy, and his administration has made it clear that it will not support countries that backslide from democratic norms. This is likely why Biden refused to invite Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela to the recent Summit of the Americas. As a result, the Biden administration is at risk of losing influence in the region to China, which has been more willing to overlook human rights abuses in order to expand its economic and political reach.

View PDF