During the third quarter of 2022, the Federal Reserve jacked up its key policy rate by 150 points across two meetings, accounting for half of its rate hikes since it started tightening policy in March. That, and Fed officials’ insistence that they’ll keep rates higher for longer to beat down inflation, put a damper on asset prices.
Also not to be ignored, the Fed’s actions to shrink its balance ramped up during the quarter, reaching its full reduction rate in September. At its full pace, the central bank is letting $60B of Treasury securities and $35B of agency debt and agency mortgage-backed securities roll off its balance sheet, an action that reduces liquidity to the financial markets.
In response, investors realized during the quarter that the central bank is serious about removing the punch bowl to ratchet down the economy in an effort to reign in prices.
“Markets welcome the arrival of monetary injections from central banks very warmly; the departure of those injections and the reintroduction of liquidity withdrawals, however, are not warmly welcomed and are accompanied by volatility as market participants sweat while discovering true prices in less distorted markets,” said Interactive Brokers economist José Torres, in a note.
During that three-month period, the 10-year Treasury yield has increased by 93 basis points to 3.829% on the last session of the quarter. Last Wednesday it touched as high as 4.0%, its highest level since the global financial crisis of 2008. Remember, as bond yields rise, bond prices fall.
The bear rallies: Hopes earlier in the quarter that the bear market may have run its course were quashed, with the S&P 500 falling 6.3%, the Nasdaq composite slipping falling 5.0%, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average off 7.6%.
Bitcoin (BTC-USD), which has been generally tracking risk assets, only edged down ~0.2% for the quarter, and is still below the $20K mark at $19.4K, and less than a third of its $68.9K all-time high in November 2021. Ethereum (ETH-USD), which achieved its Merge event in mid-September, jumped 25% during Q3.
Commodities: The phenomenon of investors turning to gold during uncertain times didn’t hold in Q3. The continuous gold contract fell 7.7% during the quarter.
Copper contracts, which generally tracks investors’ expectations for the economy, also fell, dropping 7.9% during the quarter.
Crude oil, more tied to geopolitical events than the Fed’s policy, fell 25%, ending the quarter at ~$79.74 per barrel.
Real estate cooldown: After experiencing super-charged growth during the height of the pandemic, the real estate market cooled some in Q3 as tighter financial conditions pushed mortgage rates higher and forced some homebuyers to the sidelines. The 30-year fixed-rate mortgage averaged 6.70% for the week ended Sept. 29, up a full percentage point from 5.70% for the week ended June 30.
In August, the most recent data available, the median sale price of a new home fell to $436.8K from $439.4K in July. The median existing home sales price fell to $389.5K vs. $403.8K in July. The Real Estate Select Sector SPDR ETF (NYSEARCA:XLRE) sank 12% during the quarter.
But consumers are still spending as inflation rises, even on discretionary items. The Consumer Discretionary Select Sector SPDR ETF (NYSEARCA:XLY) managed a 3.6% increase during Q3.
Technology stocks stayed weak during the quarter, as the Technology Select Sector SPDR ETF (NYSEARCA:XLK) slipped 6.6% during the quarter.
The mighty dollar: With the Fed’s aggressive rate hikes, the U.S. dollar surged as higher interest rates made investing in the U.S. more attractive. The U.S. Dollar Index climbed 6.7% to 112.17 during the quarter. While the strong dollar makes it less expensive for Americans to travel abroad, it makes U.S. export more expensive and increases the debt burden for emerging economies with U.S. dollar-denominated debt.
Looking ahead: Going into Q4, Interactive Brokers’ Torres expects inflation to stay hot, the U.S. labor market remains strong, and the Fed to hang tough. “This will cause economic conditions to continue slowing, bond yields to rise further, albeit they’re probably close to the top, and equities to reach new lows, although they’re probably close to the bottom,” he said.
Traders tilt toward the Fed raising its key rate by 125 basis points over the next two meetings, though many expect a 100 bp increase. CME FedWatch tool puts a 44.1% probability on the rate rising to 4.00%-4.25% and a 51.9% probability on a 4.25%-4.50%.
SA contributor John M. Mason says the Federal Reserve is doing what it promised to do, but be on the lookout for how long it stays on track.
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