Powell's "Higher for Longer" Rates Signal Shakes Market Expectations

Fed signals "higher for longer" rates amid strong economy and persistent inflation, challenging market expectations for cuts.

By Athena Xu

4/2, 01:48 EDT

Key Takeaway

  • Fed Chair Jerome Powell signals "higher for longer" interest rates, dampening hopes for imminent rate cuts amid strengthening economy and ambiguous inflation decline.
  • US manufacturing expansion and rising prices suggest less need for rate cuts, with market expectations adjusting to possibly no cuts by July.
  • China's stock market rallies on better-than-expected economic numbers, despite ongoing challenges and the need for policy support to sustain growth.

Higher Rates, Stronger Economy

The Federal Reserve's recent signals suggest a departure from the anticipated path of monetary easing, with Fed Chair Jerome Powell emphasizing a "higher for longer" interest rate environment. This stance, reinforced by Powell's comments at a San Francisco Fed forum, underscores the resilience of the U.S. economy but also hints at the persistent challenge of inflation. Despite a slight year-on-year decrease in inflation as per the Dallas Fed's "trimmed mean" measure, the pace towards the 2% target remains sluggish. This scenario complicates the market's expectations, which had previously leaned towards imminent rate cuts.

The Return of Manufacturing and Inflationary Pressures

The resurgence of U.S. manufacturing, as indicated by the ISM manufacturing index crossing back into expansion territory, brings with it renewed inflationary pressures. This development challenges the notion of near-term rate cuts, suggesting that the Federal Reserve might maintain its current stance to navigate the inflationary landscape effectively. The market's reaction, adjusting the odds of a rate cut by the June FOMC meeting to a mere 50/50, reflects a recalibration of expectations in light of these economic indicators.

Stocks Outperform Bonds in a High-Rate Environment

Despite the prevailing high interest rates, the stock market has demonstrated remarkable resilience, outperforming bonds significantly. This trend, evident in the performance disparity between the S&P 500 and long-term Treasury ETFs, underscores the continued appeal of equities in an environment where the fed funds rate remains at 5%. The historical context of the late 1990s, when a similar rate environment coincided with robust economic growth, suggests that high rates do not inherently preclude growth or equity market gains.

The Dollar's Strength and China's Economic Position

The stronger-than-expected U.S. economy, coupled with the prospect of sustained higher rates, has buoyed the dollar, elevating it to its highest level against a basket of developed market currencies since November. This strength contrasts with the performance of emerging market currencies and underscores the "America First" reality in the current global economic landscape. Meanwhile, China's economy shows signs of recovery, as evidenced by a rally in the Chinese stock market and improved manufacturing PMI figures. However, the sustainability of this recovery remains in question, amidst domestic challenges and the need for policy support.