Quantitative tightening (QT) has wide-spanning effects on the economy, as it puts upward pressure on risk-free interest rates due to increased supply in debt markets (assuming all else equal). The Fed announced its QT strategy just one meeting (5/3/22) after hiking its target rates for the first time since 2018 back in March. The previous QT cycle in 2017 did not begin until about two years after the Fed first started hiking rates. The reason for the quick turnaround this time around, though, stems from the fact that inflation has been running rampant, and the balance sheets of consumers and corporates are in relatively strong positions.
In terms of how various asset classes may perform in the current period of QT, some investors have looked back to the prior period of QT for insight. As mentioned above, there are some important distinctions between the current period and the last period of QT, so it may not be an apples-to-apples comparison, but there are certainly some similarities that can make knowing what happened back then helpful. Using the price of gold over the last 15 years as a backdrop, the chart below shows key events related to periods of quantitative easing (QE) and QT. The event surrounding each dot is summarized in the table below. Click here to learn more about Bespoke’s premium stock market research service.
Between October 2017 and July 2019 (the last QT cycle), the price of gold rose by 12.6%, which works out to an annualized return of 6.5%. Over the last 15 years, the price of gold has held an annualized return rate of 6.8%, so there was no clear differentiation in the performance of gold during that period of QT and the last 15 years as a whole. Looking at the chart, though, much of the gains from the last cycle of QT came late in that cycle as the Fed had already announced its intent to end the running off of assets from its balance sheet. In fact, the S&P 500 outperformed gold by more than six percentage points during the last QT cycle. In fact, before the March 2019 announcement that the Fed would wind down its balance sheet, gold was practically unchanged relative to the start of the QT cycle. Click here to become a Bespoke premium member today!
May’s first reading on regional manufacturing activity out of New York showed significant deterioration. The New York Fed’s Empire State Manufacturing survey’s headline index dropped from a solid reading of 24.6 last month down to -11.6 in May. That is only slightly above the low from two months ago that had marked the first significant contraction in activity since the spring of 2020.
Not only are General Business Conditions back into contractionary territory, but the double-digit negative reading sits in the bottom decile of all months on record going back to the start of the index in 2001. That compares to last month’s reading which was just shy of the top decile. Given the total reversal within the historical range, the month-over-month decline of 36.2 points is now the second-largest one-month drop on record behind the 56.7 point decline in April 2020.
Only New Orders and Shipments fell enough to reach contractionary levels this month, but most other categories also saw large month-over-month declines. Expectations similarly saw broad declines, however, the categories that saw the biggest deteriorations in current conditions (General Business Conditions, New Orders, and Shipments) saw improvements in six-month expectations.
As previously mentioned, the most shocking declines were in demand-related categories, namely New Orders and Shipments. These two indices fell by 33.9 and 49.9 points, respectively. For New Orders, that was the third-largest decline on record outside of the 56-point drop in April 2020 and a 43.1-point decline in the wake of September 11, 2001. The only larger decline in Shipments happened, again, in April 2020. Unfilled Orders also fell dramatically, though the month-over-month decline was not as close to a record, and the actual level of the index is still relatively elevated in the top quartile of its historical range. Although more New York area firms reported declines in new orders and shipments, expectations were each higher month-over-month following sharp declines leading into this month’s report.
Perhaps in part due to that slow down in demand, Delivery Times continue to decelerate with the index dropping another 1.6 points. That follows a much larger double-digit decline in April. In what could be either a positive sign as a result of finally alleviated supply chains or a negative sign given slowing demand, responding firms also reported that they expect delivery times to finally decline in six months. That was the first negative reading in expectations since October 2020.
Additionally, inflationary pressures appear to be easing as both indices for Prices Paid and Received declined across current conditions and 6-month expectations. Those declines are only small dents in what have been extremely strong runs over the past two years.
Perhaps the only silver lining in this month’s report was in regards to employment. New York area firms accelerated both net hiring and the average workweek. Again though, expectations were less optimistic as those indices continue to roll over alongside plans for Technology Spending and Capital Expenditures. In other words, the employment situation may have improved in May, but that is not expected to improve dramatically in the months ahead as demand has weakened. Click here to learn more about Bespoke’s premium stock market research service.
The Richmond Fed’s manufacturing survey was released this morning showing a modest improvement in conditions in the month of April. The headline number rose by a point to 14 which is still in the middle of the pandemic range of readings and the highest level since December.
In spite of the improvement in the composite index—a weighted average of shipments, new orders, and employment—the breadth of this month’s report was negative with over half of the categories declining month over month. Two of those declining categories were new orders and employment which are again inputs for the composite. That means the higher reading of the composite was entirely thanks to the 8-point increase in shipments.
Looking across other areas of the report, expenditures were weaker while inventories are recovering from historic lows. While business conditions are mixed to deteriorating, supply chains are showing signs of improvement as evidenced by the increase in shipments.
While shipments were an area of strength, another input to the composite, new orders, fell 4 points and is back near the middle of its historical range. Expectations, however, experienced a sizeable rebound with that index rising 9 points. While that increase bucks the trend of weak expectations readings relative to current conditions that we have seen in other regional Fed surveys (which we discussed in last night’s Closer), this index’s increase was the exception rather than the rule. As shown in the table above, only a handful of other expectations categories rose month over month with many declines ranking in the bottom decile of monthly moves.
The big increase to shipments left that index at the highest level since last July as backlog of orders are growing at a substantially more modest pace compared to earlier in the pandemic. One likely reason that both of these readings are improving is a coincident improvement in supply chain stress. The index for lead times saw an 8-point decline ranking in the bottom 5% of all monthly moves. That leaves the index one point above the December low of 35.
Employment metrics were mixed this month. The region’s firms are still hiring on a net basis, but hiring has peaked and declined again in April. That was in spite of firms also reporting better availability of workers with in-demand skills as that index rose to the highest level since July 2020. With that being said, the negative number indicates a still insufficient supply of quality talent. Wages, meanwhile, saw one of the larger increases in recent months rising to the highest level since September. The average workweek was unchanged at a healthy level in the top 5% of its historical range, but expectations are calling for declines in hours worked on the horizon. Click here to learn more about Bespoke’s premium stock market research service.
It was another weaker than expected regional manufacturing report this morning as the Dallas Fed’s survey came in at 1.8. The index was expected to decline, but to a more modest reading of 3.5 from last month’s level of 8.7. With expectations declining hand in hand, this report indicates southern manufacturers have seen a significant deceleration in growth and also expect that to continue in the future as the indices for current and future conditions are around the weakest of the pandemic.
Current condition indices out of Dallas more closely resembled the results of the Philly Fed survey last week with weak breadth and readings falling into the middle of their historical ranges. However, like both the Philly and Empire Fed readings, expectations are deteriorating much more quickly than current conditions. As shown below, while many current condition indices are at worst in the middle of their historic ranges, some expectations indices have fallen into the bottom decile of readings after historically large declines month over month in April. For example, the decline in expectations for New Orders ranks in the bottom 1% of all month-over-month moves.
Two indices for current conditions were in contraction in April. The first was inventories while the other, and more negative, was company outlook. This index is now at its lowest level since the historic lows set in the spring of 2020. While still positive, the same can be said for expectations as they have breached new lows as well. That means on net more reporting firms are seeing economic conditions deteriorating than improving.
At the moment, demand has held up with the index for New Orders ticking up slightly though it is well below levels set earlier in the pandemic. As such, Unfilled Orders are still growing but at a slower rate as Shipments saw a modest increase off of post-pandemic lows. Again, in spite of any improvements reported in current conditions, Texas manufacturers do not expect much good to come on the horizon. The monthly declines in expectations for New Orders and New Order Growth Rate rank in the bottom 1% and 2%, respectively, of all monthly changes. While it was not as large of a drop, shipments similarly experienced a sharp decline ranking in the bottom few percentiles.
As for one silver lining of the report, there was further evidence of easing of supply chain stress with the Delivery Time index falling to 21.2. This index has been consistently falling over the past year. Expectations saw a coincident decline.
The Dallas Fed also includes in the report an index on uncertainty; a newer index only dating back to 2018 tracking the change versus the prior month in the firm’s uncertainty about company outlook. This index has returned to the upper end of its range near 30. That is slightly below the January reading for the highest levels in the series’ history outside of the beginning of the pandemic.
Be sure to check out tonight’s Closer which will provide an update of our Five Fed Manufacturing Composite, which combines these Dallas Fed readings with those of the Empire and Philly Fed surveys to gauge overall national manufacturer activity. Click here to view Bespoke’s premium membership options.
Today’s release of the Philadelphia Fed’s Business Outlook survey essentially saw the opposite results of last Friday’s Empire Fed release. Whereas the New York Fed’s headline number surged, the Philly Fed reading dropped from 27.4 to 17.6, well below expectations of 21.4.
Even though current conditions indices of the two regional Fed surveys released so far this month mirrored one another, both were on the same page for future expectations. Like the Empire Fed, the Philly Fed saw broad declines across expectations indices. In fact, the only index that rose month over month was Unfilled Orders.
The April report showed a notable slowing of demand as New Orders fell 8 points, and that was the best of any demand-related index. Shipments and Unfilled Orders both dropped double digits. While still indicative of growth, just at a slower rate, these indices have fallen from upper quintile readings down to the 60th percentile range. Expectations indices are far more depressed. New Orders and Unfilled Orders are only in the 5th and 6th percentiles of their historical ranges, respectively. Ironically, Unfilled Orders was also the only expectations index to move higher in April. Inventories remain more elevated for both indices for current and future conditions. The former rose back into the upper decile of its range as the latter moderated from a 99th percentile reading last month.
As we noted earlier this week, one hopeful sign for supply chains from the Empire Fed survey was a dramatic improvement in Delivery Times. That was echoed in today’s release. The index sat just off record highs last month but after its third-largest month over month decline on record, the index has fallen all the way back down to 17.9 which is the lowest level since last February. Responding firms also report that they expect delivery times to decline in the future meaning more improvements in supply chains are expected.
Even though supply chains might not be as constrained, that does not mean firms are not paying less. The index for Prices Paid hit a new high for the pandemic with the index rising to 84.6. That is now the highest reading since June 1979. As for how those increases are being passed to consumers, Prices Paid remain off the peak from this past November with only a slightly higher reading month over month in April.
While Prices Paid came close, it was not able to set a record high this month. The index for Number of Employees however did. Moving higher for the third month in a row, this index hit a new record high of 41.4. That means Philly area manufacturers are taking on the highest number of new workers since the beginning of this survey in 1968! The average workweek remains historically elevated and off of recent lows, but that is also well below the highs earlier in the pandemic. Expectations however saw the first negative reading since February 2016. In other words, with a larger number of new hires coming on board, the average workweek is expected to shorten in the near future. Click here to view Bespoke’s premium membership options.