Powell Remarks, PCE Report Feed “Inflation Has Peaked” Narrative

Today’s release of the October PCE report indicated that the key indicator, month-over-month core price increases, rose 0.2%. That’s in contrast to April (0.7%), June (0.6%), and the last 2 months at 0.5%. It’s just one month and not yet a trend, but 0.2% annualized is 2.4%. That’s “in the range” of the Fed’s 2.0% target inflation rate. Coming on the heels of yesterday’s sort of dovish comments from Fed Chair Powell, the 10-year Treasury rallied down to 3.54% this morning. It’s now almost 80 bps below the recent peak of 4.32% (October 21). One year ago today it was 1.33%. Markets are cheered by Powell’s comment that “it makes sense to moderate the pace of rate increases.” This is being interpreted as a likely 50 bps increase this month, followed by a couple more increases in the 25-50 bps range. He also cautioned that “we have a long way to go in restoring price stability,” mentioning that the terminal rate would have to be held for longer than previously assumed. Futures markets are now predicting a terminal rate of around 4.90% (which implies another 100 bps of increases). Powell drilled down on the core issue: tightness in the jobs market. The three categories of goods and services that make up the index are goods, housing, and services – with services being the largest. Good and housing prices are moderating while services costs climb.

Tightness in the job market: The Fed is watching the job openings per unemployed person ratio closely. It is presently at 1.7 to 1 (down from a high of 2 to 1 earlier). The Covid pandemic exacerbated this ratio. Powell pointed out that the “participation gap” has led to a shortfall of 3.5 million workers in the labor force. Covid related deaths, lingering long covid sickness, early retirements, and other factors probably account for 1.5 million of that total. Labor participation stats in tomorrow’s jobs report release will be closely watched as usual. Bottom line: The Fed can’t increase the workforce so it’s going to concentrate on decreasing job openings by tightening financial conditions. Powell seemed to be speaking to critics of his policy in Congress when he responded to a question: “We don’t think the world is going to be a better place if we take our time, and inflation becomes entrenched.” Stay tuned…

By David R. Pascale, Jr., Senior Vice President at George Smith Partners