Wentz Weekly Insights
Treasury Bond Yields Highest in 15 Years As Markets Reprice Future Interest Rate Expectations

Stocks were down for the third consecutive week with the S&P 500 falling to a 2-month low, although still just 5.2% off the highs of the year. After seeing the volatility index at the lowest levels since before the pandemic over much of the summer, the fear gauge (VIX) has jumped nearly 40% in three weeks.
Investors have seen another pickup in Treasury yields with the 10-year Treasury moving past 4.30% for the highest level since 2007 prior to the Financial Crisis. It may be the affects of excess supply, as we have discussed recently, after the Treasury issued hundreds of billions in new debt after the debt ceiling passage, helping push the 10-year Treasury yield to a new 16 year high (and 30-year bond to the highest since 2011). See chart below – the red line is the 30-year yield, blue line is the 10-year yield. There are several other factors at play, including stronger economic growth and the market repricing the interest rate expectations and future Fed policy.
Receiving more attention last week was the Atlanta Fed’s GDP Now model. The Atlanta Fed runs a forecasting model for GDP (gross domestic product – seen as a measurement of economic growth) that uses real time data to estimate current quarter GDP. Last week’s update showed a jump in the estimate to a 5.8% quarterly growth (annualized), up from 5.0% in the week prior and from 4.1% two weeks ago. The increase was due to better than expected retail sales, housing starts, and industrial production data. While the forecasting model does not match actual GDP data, it does a good job at measuring the trend and direction of GDP. The Blue Chip consensus for Q3 GDP is still only just above 2.0%.
This is great, but the problem with stronger economic growth would be reigniting inflation and creating a more persistent inflation issue. Keep in mind the whole reason rates are the highest they have been in 22 years is to bring inflation down to the Fed’s target of 2% annually. The goal is to slow economic demand enough to bring it in better balance with supply, which creates better price stability. A stronger economy indicates stronger demand and potentially higher inflation.
That has been the other reason for the move higher in rates. The market has repriced interest rate expectations, which is what we have warned about in recent weeks, and while stocks are only down 5%, there could be additional downside ahead. By the end of 2024, the CME FedWatch tool, which shows the market’s expectations on future interest rates, shows rate expectations will be at 4.41%, compared with 5.33% where rates stand today. Just one month ago that expectation was near 3.80%, showing investors are increasingly expecting higher rates for longer.
The other thing is Fed members have told us that policy is in restrictive territory with the Federal Funds rate, the policy rate the Fed sets, at 5.33%. Restrictive territory is where policy (rates) is so tight (high) that it restricts or limits economic growth. With data showing the economy growing substantially more than expected, it is harder to call current policy restrictive enough compared to what the Fed has been suggesting. If this is the case, rates will continue to go higher, and stay there for longer. Keep in mind policy (higher interest rates) work in a lag, as referenced in last week’s newsletter it typically takes 12-18 months for an adjustment in policy to be felt in the economy which would mean the economy has only felt 2.25% worth of rate increases.
Market participants are hoping to get a better idea of how the Federal Reserve sees the better than expected economic data. This week the Kansas City Fed will host Federal Reserve and global central bank policymakers at the annual Economic Symposium in Jackson Hole where the topic will be “Structural Shifts in the Global Economy.” Of all central bank events, this one is closely followed as historically there have been major central bank policy changes that were announced here. While that is not expected this year, investors will look closely for cues on the Fed’s thoughts on inflation and future policy. Fed Chairman Jerome Powell is scheduled to speak Friday morning.
The other event that will be in focus is the quarterly earnings release by chipmaker Nvidia. The company is known more recently as designing the chips (GPUs – graphic processing units) that go into creating artificial intelligence technology. It was its previous quarter that it reported a blowout quarter and guidance that sparked the recent rally in AI related stocks. This is what has driven a majority of stock market gains this year (Nvidia stock alone is up 296% year-to-date). If there is any way the rally continues, it comes from Nvidia’s results and its guidance for the remainder of 2023. Expectations are extremely high and any sort of guidance at or below expectations will likely send the stock, and sector, lower.
These two events will be key to the markets next move. Expectations are still high, but we are beginning to see investors become more cautious, reflecting the recent rise in the VIX (volatility index). We still prefer being overweight defensive sectors in the current environment and see a greater risk to the downside with a potential recession in 2024 as the economy still faces many headwinds (high interest rates, pickup in inflationary pressures, overvalued and overbought stocks, depletion in pandemic/excess savings, student loan payments restarting, China’s weak economy and spillover potential).
Week in Review:
It was a slow start to the week for U.S. stocks, which opened basically flat on an uneventful day. Most of the headlines were about Cleveland Cliffs proposed acquisition of US Steel (which rejected by the board of US Steel) and ongoing issues in China including the deteriorating conditions in its property sector that led to a suspension of bond trading from real estate firm Country Garden. There was positive data on inflation expectations after the NY Fed’s survey showed one-year inflation expectations were 3.5%, down from 3.8% last month. Despite the negative global headlines and continued slide in Treasury prices, stocks moved higher through the session, led by technology with the NASDAQ gaining 1.05% and S&P 500 up 0.58%.
Stocks got off to another slow start on Tuesday but this time kept the downward pressure through the day. This time it was driven by weaker economic data out of China and its central bank cutting its key medium term lending rate, as well as Fitch Ratings warning that the banking sector could see credit downgrades, including for some of the largest banks. Offsetting the worries was strong data on retail sales for July where sales grew 0.7%, almost double the expectations, driven by online sales (Amazon Prime Day). Longer dated Treasury yields rose again while stocks were down at least 1% across the board with the S&P 500 losing 1.16%.
Target’s earnings report made most headlines Wednesday morning after it missed sales expectations, however the stock was higher after its margins were better than expected which drove profits higher (lower markdowns, lower freight/fulfillment costs, and price increases). Discretionary spending was weaker while grocery and essential spending was stronger. China continued to be in the headline with data showing a drop in home prices while US data included stable new housing starts. Then in the afternoon the FOMC July meeting minutes were released and viewed as more hawkish with policymakers showing mixed views but some policymakers expressed views of more rate hikes and stickier inflation which sent stocks to session lows with the S&P 500 finishing down 0.76%.
Thursday morning data saw jobless claims for the latest week tick lower and in line with recent weeks with the headlines continuing to center around worries over China and its property sector and spillover potential. Walmart received some attention after its earnings report showed solid results, but similar to Target it is seeing more spending in necessities versus discretionary categories while benefiting from less markdowns. Stocks traded similar to Wednesday session, unchanged at the open but moved lower and closed near session lows with the S&P 500 down 0.77% as the 10-year Treasury saw its yield move to the highest level since 2007.
Global markets fell again Friday which led to another down day for US stocks. The big news Friday was centered around China’s economy after one of its largest property developers and world’s most indebted property developer, Evergrande, filing for bankruptcy protection in the US. It was a quiet day elsewhere with US stocks ending mixed; the S&P 500 was unchanged while the NASDAQ fell 0.20%.
It was another risk off week for stocks, apparent from a 11% drop in Bitcoin and growth stocks underperforming value. Treasuries sold off over the week across the curve with the monetary policy sensitive 2-year Treasury note yield rising 6 basis points to 4.95% while the more economic sensitive 10-year note’s yield rose 10 bps to 4.25% after hitting a new 15 year high. Oil was 2.3% lower for the first time in eight weeks, despite another week of inventory drawdowns, over weaker economic data from China caused worries about lower demand. The dollar index was up 0.5% and gold was down 1.6%. The major US stock indices finished as follows: S&P 500 -2.11%, Dow -2.21%, NASDAQ -2.59%, Russell 2000 -3.41%.

Recent Economic Data

  • Retail sales in July rose 0.7%, nearly double what was expected, to a seasonally adjusted $696.4 billion with 9 of the 13 major categories rising in the month. Excluding gas and vehicle sales, which are two categories that tend to be volatile, sales rose a stronger 1.0%. Driving sales higher in the month was online sales rising 1.9%, sporting goods stores up 1.5%, restaurants & bars up 1.4%, and general merchandise stores up 0.8%. This was offset by a 1.8% decline in furniture store sales, 1.3% decline in electronics and appliances, and a 0.3% decline in vehicle sales. Sales are up 3.2% from a year ago with the strongest sales growth in restaurants & bars and online sales, offset by large decline in gas sales (lower gas prices), furniture, electronics & appliances, and building materials. The annual change is still positive, but subtracting the 3.2% inflation over the same period sales are flat. In addition, the better than expected increase could be due to Amazon’s Prime Day driving growth. Still overall a strong report proving the consumer remains strong.
  • The housing market index, a survey measuring homebuilder sentiment, was 50 for August – right at a level that is breakeven (above 50 is positive). This is down from 56 in July and corresponds with the move higher in interest rates over the past month. Basically all components deteriorated in the month – the present situation index fell 5 points to 57, the expectations over the next six months fell 4 points to 55, while the traffic of potential buyers fell 6 points, remaining at depressed levels at 34 in August.
  • July housing starts and permits were basically exactly in line with expectations, rising slightly from June’s levels. The number of housing starts rose 3.9% in July to a seasonally adjusted annualized pace of 1.452 million and up roughly the same amount from July 2022. The number of permits to build a new home were relatively unchanged in July at an annual rate of 1.442 million, which is still 13% below the rate from a year ago. The number of homes under construction remains pretty strong at the highest level in 50 years at 1.681 million (annual rate), relatively unchanged from last year, while the number of homes authorized but not yet started construction fell to the lowest since the beginning of 2022 at 277k. There is still a lot of demand for new homes as there is limited existing supply, but there may be early signs future construction is possibly slowing.
  • General manufacturing activity fell again in August with the Empire State Manufacturing survey index at -19.0 for the month, a sharp drop from -0.4 in July. New orders and shipments fell “significantly” while delivery times were steady. Employment conditions were steady but the average work week was shorter and input and selling prices increased in the month. If there is any positive it was that firms became more optimistic with the future business conditions index up to 19.9 for the highest level in over a year.
  • On the other hand, manufacturing activity in the Philadelphia region improved in August, according to the Philly Fed manufacturing survey. The survey’s index was 12, up from a -13.5 in July, suggesting growing conditions for the first time in 12 months. About 25% of firms reported growing conditions, 12% reported a decrease and 58% reported no change. New orders rose 32 points to 16, the first positive signal in 14 months, while shipments rose positive as well. However, employment showed a decline while price increases were near their long-term average.
  • Industrial production rose 1.0% for the second best increase this year, the best since January, which comes after a 0.8% decline in June. The strong increase was broad based but due mostly to a sharp bounce back in utilities of 5.4% due to weather with higher than average temperatures in the South and Southwest (after a 3.0% decline in June), as well as a 0.5% increase in manufacturing, driven by auto production, and 0.5% increase in mining, driven by oil and gas production. Utilization rate was 79.3%, which was a half point increase in July but has been lighter than average over the past year or so.
  • After declining 10 of the past 12 months, prices of goods and services imported to the U.S. saw a 0.4% increase in July, the largest monthly increase since the beginning of 2022. Contributing to the increase was a 3.6% increase in fuel prices and prices excluding fuel were unchanged in the month. Import prices are down 4.4% over the past 12 months, after bottoming in June at -6.1%. Prices of U.S. exports increased 0.7% in July, also coming after declining 10 of the past 12 months. The increase was led by prices of agricultural good rising 0.9%, but prices excluding agricultural exports were still up 0.6%. Over the past 12 months, export prices are still down 7.9%, although improving from the 12 month decline of 11.9% in June.
  • Initial unemployment claims for the week ended August 12 decreased 11k from the prior week to 239,000 back to levels it was at over the past two months (after a spike the week prior). The four-week average rose 3k to 234k. The number of continuing claims was 1.716 million, up 32k from the prior week with the four-week average at 1.693 million (down 8k).
  • The 30-year mortgage rate for the prime borrower rose to a new 20-year high, surpassing the highs from November. The average rate was 7.09% after a 13 basis point increase last week, following treasury yields higher, and the highest since April 2002. A year ago at this time, the prime 30-year rate was 5.13%.

Company News

  • One day after Cleveland Cliffs made public its offer to acquire US Steel, Esmark Inc., a privately held company with a portfolio of industrial companies, said it offered to buy US Steel for $35/share in cash (slightly higher than Cliffs’ cash and stock offer). The Steelworkers union said it supports the Cliffs deal due to the synergies it provides and as the best way to preserve union jobs. Later in the week, reports surfaced that Luxembourg based and the second largest steel company in the world, ArcelorMittal, is working with investment bankers on a potential offer. On Friday, Cliffs said it received exclusive assignment of the right to bid for US Steel from the steelworkers union. Under the labor contract between the union and US Steel, the union has the right to bid for the assets but not block a potential deal and the assignment transfers the unions’ rights to Cliffs, making Cliffs the only realistic buyer of US Steel.
  • The Financial Times reported the Saudis and UAE have bought “thousands” of GPUs (graphic processing units), including from Nvidia, to build out AI software (GPUs are the most important component in creating AI related software). The report added UAE is building its own large language model known as Falcon. Nvidia shares rose 7% after the news along with analyst upgrades.
  • Last week Johnson & Johnson said the exchange ratio would be 8.0324 shares of Kenvue common stock for each share of Johnson & Johnson owned. In a previously announced split off, JNJ said it will offer current shareholders the opportunity to exchange their shares of JNJ for shares of its split off consumer brands business Kenvue – which owns brands such as Band-Aid, Tylenol, Listerine, Nicorette, and Neosporin. The exchange ratio represents a 7% premium, based on a previous news release by JNJ. The exchange offer expired August 18 and JNJ said it was oversubscribed, as a result those that offered to exchange will receive shares on a prorated basis, excluding those that own 100 or less shares or odd lots.
  • Blue Shield of California, a non-profit health insurer, said yesterday that as part of its new pharmacy care model it will use a number of pharmacy service providers beginning in 2024, as opposed to using just CVS as its pharmacy benefit manager (PBM). Shares of CVS were down 8.1% after the news. CVS later said the financial impacts of the partial termination of Blue Shield of California’s contract is not expected to have an impact to CVS’ guidance and is expected to have an immaterial impact on its longer-term outlook. It reaffirmed its 2023 guidance with EPS of $8.60.
  • Target and Walmart reported quarterly results last week that showed a similar trend in consumer spending. Both reported mixed results compared to expectations and both saw lower mark downs, lower costs, and price increases which helped profits while Walmart benefited from a more price conscious consumer. In addition, both saw a greater shift in spending to necessities like food, health and essentials and a decline in general merchandise and discretionary categories.

Other News

  • The Fed’s FOMC meeting minutes from its July 26 meeting were mostly as expected with almost all policymakers favoring a rate hike – although it was a unanimous decision, two supported holding rates unchanged. Most officials continue to see “significant” upside risks to inflation which could bring on more rate increases. Meanwhile, some officials said policy is in restrictive territory and as such the risks are now two sided, this compares with recent meetings where Powell described the risks was still doing too little versus too much. When it comes to future decisions, policymakers will rely heavily on incoming data, similar comments to what Powell relayed in his press conference.
  • There might be another large union strike in the works – the United Auto Workers union is going to vote this week to authorize a strike against automakers as discussion between union leaders and the automakers about wages and other economic issues are moving too slow. CNBC reported that the work stoppage by union members would result in an economic loss of more than $5 billion after 10 days, according to Anderson Economic Group.
  • A risk of trade tensions are rising between the US and Mexico. Bloomberg reported last week that the US is preparing to accelerate its complaint that Mexico violates the free trade deal with its ban on genetically modified corn. The US Trade Representative is preparing to form a dispute resolution panel under the trade agreement with the purpose of finding if Mexico’s ban is inconsistent with the trade agreement. The report says if the panel sides with the US, it could result in tariffs on Mexican goods (Mexico is now the largest US trade partner).
  • Fitch Ratings warned that credit ratings at dozens of US banks, including some of the largest banks, were at risk. This comes days after Moody’s cut a handful of small/mid-sized banks credit ratings. Fitch said it could downgrade the banking industry score to A+, down from AA- and this would force it to downgrade some of the highest rated banks due to the policy no individual bank can have a higher rating than the environment in which it operates. If it is forced to cut the rating of a bank like JPMorgan, who has the top rating of all banks, then it would be forced to consider a cut for all its peers. What would cause it to downgrade the industry would be the path of interest rates and if loan defaults continue to rise above a “normal level of losses.”

Did You Know…?

The AAA Rating Club:

The downgrade of the credit rating of the U.S. government received many headlines several weeks ago. The country’s debt was downgraded from the top rating of AAA to the second best AA+ due to a number of reasons (see the 8/7/23 newsletter here). Data from Bloomberg, organized by Belle Haven, shows there are now just a handful of countries, US states, and just a couple corporations that still have the highest possible credit rating. As seen in the chart below, there are just nine countries, eleven U.S. states, and two corporations that have the top rating.

WFG News & Events:

The Election & Its Impact on The Markets:

Wentz Financial Group is happy to announce we will be brining back guest speaker Phil Orlando for a discussion on his and Federated’s thoughts on the current market and economic environment. Phil will expand on the election of 2024 and its implications for markets. Phil Orlando is Chief Equity Market Strategist of Federated Investors with over 43 years of experience and is responsible for formulating Federated’s views on the economy, markets, and the firm’s investment positioning strategies. RSVP early as this event will reach capacity quickly!

Tuesday, October 3 @ 6:00 pm
Wednesday, October 4 @ 12:00 pm

The Week Ahead

As earnings season dies down, the coming week includes several important events that could determine the path of markets in the weeks ahead. Nvidia, the graphic chip maker, among other chips, who reported a blowout quarter in May that sparked the AI rally, reports its quarterly results on Wednesday and the stock is expected to see a big move (in either direction) after and could show the AI rally has room to run or that the hype is nearly over. On Friday the main event for the week will be the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City hosting the Jackson Hole Economic Policy symposium from Thursday to Saturday. The key event will be Chairman Jerome Powell’s speech on Friday. The event is known in the past to be where Fed policymakers announce key changes to monetary policy. The topic this year is “Structural Shifts in the Global Economy.” Elsewhere, on the economic calendar we will see existing home sales on Tuesday, where sales for July are expected to be flat, new home sales on Wednesday, durable goods orders and jobless claims on Thursday, and the consumer sentiment survey results on Friday. Although second quarter earnings seasons is nearly over, there are still several notable companies reporting this week including Zoom Video on Monday; Lowe’s, Macy’s, Toll Brothers, Dick’s Sporting Goods on Tuesday; Nvidia, Snowflake, Autodesk, Foot Locker on Wednesday; and Ulta Beauty, Affirm, Gap, Intuit, Workday, and Marvell on Friday.