Bonds and Interest Rates
When we look back on history we may see November 2023 as the beginning of the return to less aggressive monetary policy – except possibly for Australia.
As a result of recent changes in sentiment, the price of US Treasury’s rose sharply forcing yields down. 10-year yields were down by about 0.7% points in November – a massive change indeed. Market indicators are pointing to an end in Fed rate hikes having already been achieved and for a reasonable chance of a cut in the first quarter, followed possibly by another in the second quarter. By the end of 2024, the modal rate is expected to be about a full 1% below the current rate.
The Fed chair is not yet acknowledging this breakthrough in expectations but there are rumours that some Fed members are openly discussing it.
The price of oil dropped sharply in November – around ?6% for WTI and ?5% for Brent. Gold prices rose 2% and copper nearly 4%.
The price of iron ore rose very strongly – at 8% –which helped the Materials sector on the ASX 200 achieve a monthly gain of 5%.
The Australian dollar – against the US dollar – appreciated by 4.8% which will help reduce import prices and, hence, domestic inflation in Australia.
On the surface, Australian employment growth was strong at +55,000 new jobs in October with the full-time / part-time split being +17,000 / +38,000. However, the unemployment rate rose to 3.7% from 3.6%.
When the strong population growth arising from immigration is taken into account, some of the shine is taken off these numbers. However, +9 million hours extra were worked in the latest month. That number cancels out the ?9 million from the previous month but still leaves ?8 million hours lost over the last three months – or about 50,000 full-time-equivalent jobs. The mix is changing making it harder to interpret these data.
Retail sales were unequivocally bad. In volume terms they fell ?1.7% over the year or about ?4.3% on a per capita basis.
The wage price index rose 4.0% on the year or just about in line with inflation. CPI went up 4.9% on the year when 5.2% had been expected and down from 5.6% the month earlier. Core CPI rose 5.1% for the year down from 5.5% from the month earlier. Recent data point to sharply lower levels of inflation.
The so-called cost of living crisis is only really a problem if wages do not keep up with price inflation – which they are not. The crisis is real and workers deserve pay rises at least to maintain living standards including catch-up where appropriate. Wage rises are not the culprit. The old enemies of supply-chain, oil prices, currency depreciation and flood damage were the main causes our inflation problem.
China’s retail sales bounced back at 7.6% against an expected 7.0% and industrial output rose 4.6% against an expected 4.4%. Not a bad set of numbers but China must address some very real issues in the property sector.
At the end of November, it was reported that there was a surge respiratory cases in China. Hospitals are struggling to cope and masks are back in play but, so far, there are no travel restrictions in place.
It would be devastating if this was the start of another ‘pandemic scale’ crisis but it could just be a typical seasonal health problem on a larger scale.
US inflation data released in November beat expectations. CPI inflation was 0.0% for the month or 3.2% for the year against expectations of 0.1% and 3.7%. Core CPI inflation was 0.2% for the month and 4.0% for the year against expectations of 0.3% and 4.1%. While these numbers were not big beats, it appears the psychological 0.0% for the month caused a big sigh of relief. Bond and equity markets rallied strongly. PCE inflation was also flat for the latest month.
On the wholesale front, PPI inflation came in at ?0.5% for the month and 1.3% for the year (against an expected 1.9%). Wages only grew modestly at 0.2% for the month. If this were a political election, we think inflation would have declared defeat.
150,000 new jobs were created which was well down on last month and expectations. On top of that, the composition of jobs created was skewed towards sectors that are not part of the growth economy. The unemployment rate at 3.9% is now 0.5% points above the recent minimum.
The BoE was on hold and its inflation rate dropped to 4.6%, a two-year low, from 6.7% in the prior month. Inflation was only 0.1% for the month! However, retail sales volume was down ?0.3% for the month of October.
The UK government announced several stimulus initiatives in the November budget. These stimuli will fight against the inflation story but are most needed to redress the pain that many households have suffered in the last few years.
EU growth was negative in the latest quarter – as was that for Germany. EU inflation was down sharply from 4.3% to 2.9% for the headline rate. The core rate, at 4.2% was down from 4.5%.
Rest of the World
Thankfully a cease-fire in the Gaza-Israel conflict allowed a number of hostages and prisoners to be exchanged and essential supplies to be trucked in by the UN. The Ukraine-Russia conflict still seems nowhere near resolution. Neither conflict appears to be having a major negative influence on markets.
Turkey predicted 2023 inflation to be 65% falling to 36% in 2024. It puts our inflation problem into perspective!
As this is our last economic update for calendar year 2023, we would take this opportunity to thank you for your many comments, feedback and discussion over the year. From all in the Research and Investment team, we hope you and your families have a very happy, healthy and safe Christmas and New Year.
We look forward to returning in 2024 to continue our observation and commentary on what is a very interesting period.