By Gary Wagner
Friday August 19, 2016 18:01
While we have to take seriously any statement from Federal Reserve regional bank presidents, not all comments are equal because not all Fed presidents are equal.
Take statements coming from San Francisco Fed head John Williams who said this morning that the central bank should raise rates “sooner rather than later.” Everyone is entitled to his or her opinion, but Williams is not a voting member of the FOMC this year. Indeed, his region, centered around San Francisco but governing the mountain states, the Pacific Coast states, Alaska and Hawaii, will not be on the voting committee until 2018.
He believes that the U.S. is “pretty much at full employment now, so the future is less about meeting a goal and more about maintaining a result.” Williams also said, “The current pace of job gains is well above what we need, which I put to be somewhere around 80,000 a month.”
On price temperature, Williams said “inflation is on course to meet our 2 percent goal,” and “we’re not quite at our target, but the strength of the labor market should help us along. Under these conditions, it makes sense for the Fed to gradually move interest rates toward more normal levels,” Williams said.
For many years, the Fed unemployment target was 4.2% Raising it arbitrarily to the current 4.9% sounds absurd to us. Likewise, the 12-month PCE or Personal Consumption Expenditure (inflation) rate is steady at 1.7% although in the last eight weeks it has picked up due to a rebound in energy prices. But, of course, energy prices were at an all-time low previously. (If prices start at 100, sink to 65 and then rebound to 95, is that really inflation? We don’t think so.)
Regardless, the Williams statement hit gold because the U.S. dollar rose on the hint of a rate increase. That dragged regular trading in gold down as traders sought to ride the down-swing.
In spite of another noteworthy rise in U.S. crude, equities were slightly soft as they tried to avoid deep analysis on a summer Friday of what the heck the Fed is talking about. (They read the same FOMC minutes we all read.)
Our best analysis for where the equities show stands right now includes the summer vacation song we play every year in August. People are distracted. Juniors are at the trading desks. Discretion is the watchword when doing anything. Play it safe. Go to the sidelines with the money, if need be.
Which brings us to this closing thought. There is a lot of cash on the sidelines. It is not quite in record territory, but it is close. Couple that with the fact that U.S. stocks are all within 1.00% of their recent, record tops.
Where will the money go? Our bet is that it’s going to go to equities at least till September, probably till December, with a few hitches in the giddy-up around election time.
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