July 15, 2023

Heaven Sent 3%!

light in trees e1689448123546

Bottom Line:


The June CPI report confirmed that disinflation has taken root everywhere, driving the annual rate down to 3%.  Remove the lethargically lagging housing index, and overall inflation falls within reach of the Fed’s target.  The Fed refers to more pernicious measures to justify continued monetary austerity, but even these measures have accelerating downtrends.  The Fed will raise rates again to save face, but they don’t need to.  As inflation falls, real interest rates rise (interest rates minus the inflation rate), effectively automating additional hikes.  While movements in rates matter, historically, movements in inflation matter more. Disinflationary cycles provide investors with three times more investment returns than inflationary cycles… and that’s the reason for the rally.   


The Full Story:


The Federal Reserve began hiking interest rates off the zero-bound trajectory in March 2022.  At the time, consumer price inflation was running above 8%.  Many accused the Fed of being “behind the curve,” as they clearly were:




Recognizing the cost of their delay, the Fed increased the benchmark interest rate by 5% over the next 15 months in one of the most aggressive monetary tightening cycles in history. The combination of natural disinflationary forces and monetary austerity has driven dramatic results. On Wednesday, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics released the June Consumer Price Index report showing headline inflation has declined from 9% last June to 3% this June.  Markets rallied strongly on the news as less inflation means less Fed and less Fed means less recession.  Given the Fed’s 2% inflation target and the clear downward momentum within the report, it’s right to ask, is the Fed finished?


Gimmie Shelter Disinflation




While headline inflation rose a comforting 3% over the past year, it’s core inflation that discomforts the Fed.  Core inflation lies well above the Fed’s 2% comfort zone at 4.8%.  Therefore, to divine what’s in the Fed’s head, we must become conversant with the core.


Core inflation represents 80% of headline inflation and contains everything households purchase besides food and energy.  Of the 80%, housing inflation accounts for roughly half of the total, with new and used vehicles accounting for the next highest contribution at only 7%.  The rest of the components consist of everything from household appliances to wine (at home and away from home).  For those who prefer the trees to the forest, you can find the itemized report here.




Within the CPI report, housing-related inflation ticked slightly lower but remains 8% higher than year-ago levels.  Given the outsized role of shelter within CPI, the vast majority of inflation within the report was housing related.  In fact, if you strip out housing, headline inflation falls to 1.7%, and core inflation falls to 2.7%, well within the Fed’s target range.  This chart depicts just how dramatically overall inflation has risen and fallen when excluding shelter inflation:




To further illustrate the rapid fall in price levels afoot, 45% of the items measured in June experienced outright deflation!  With shelter sheltering inflation, when will these levels leg lower?  Unfortunately, shelter inflation calculations in the CPI report arrive with considerable lags.  Considering that the three-month rolling average shelter inflation rate is 6% and the June monthly rate annualizes at 4.4%, shelter inflation could fall more quickly than anticipated.  Economists often reference more real-time gauges of shelter inflation like the Zillow Rent Index.  Some have observed that the Zillow index tends to front-run the CPI shelter index by about one year.  The Zillow index peaked early last year and recently reported rent inflation of 4% in June.  The following chart harmonizes the two inflation indices and adjusts for the 12-month lag:




Well, isn’t that encouraging?!


If these proportions hold, shelter inflation within the Consumer Price Index could return to the Fed’s target levels within 12 months.  With shelter’s outsized influence, shelter disinflation means deflating recession conviction at the Fed.  Furthermore, stocks historically return three times more for investors when CPI falls than when it rises.


So, will this report keep the Fed at bay?  Likely not.  They have set expectations that they will raise rates another .25% on July 26th.  Powell will undoubtedly site elevated wage inflation and “supercore” inflation that remains well above the 2% target.  But even that fallback measure has lost momentum, as seen below:




In sum, we expect one more face-saving hike from the Fed with empty threats of doing more.  Remember, while the Fed may have a 2% target for the rise in general price levels, the long-term inflation CPI inflation rate for the USA is 3.5%, above where we are today.  The Fed may remain a problem, but only if they fail to recognize that inflation no longer is.


Have a great weekend!


David S. Waddell  

CEO, Chief Investment Strategist




Sources:  FRED, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Bloomberg L.P., Yardeni Research, BLS


David Waddell
Author: CEO Chief Investment StrategistAfter graduating from the University of the South with a BA in Economics, David began his career with Charles Schwab & Co., Inc. in Phoenix, AZ. Having been recognized for his outstanding business development record, David was promoted to the San Francisco- based Institutional Strategic Accounts Team, which interfaced with the Big 5 accounting firms and Schwab’s largest customers. David left Schwab to continue his education at the graduate level in Boston. While earning his MBA degree with a concentration in finance and investments at the F.W. Olin School at Babson College, he was appointed by the college Trustees to manage a team of seven portfolio managers overseeing the student-managed portion of Babson’s endowment fund. David also founded the Babson Investment Management Association to assist undergraduate and graduate students with training and career path planning in the investment management field. As the firm’s Chief Investment Officer, David chairs the W&A investment committee and combines macro economic forecasting, macro market analysis and macro risk assessments to design portfolio strategies utilizing public market securities worldwide. A civic leader in Memphis, David currently acts as Chairman of Epicenter Memphis, and Co-Chair of the Memphis Chamber Chairman’s Circle while also serving as a board member for LaunchTN and the New Memphis Institute. David previously served as chairman for The Leadership Academy, the RISE Foundation, and the Economic Club of Memphis. He also chaired the capital campaign to build the “Live” stage at the Memphis Botanic Garden. David was a member of the 2004 Leadership Memphis class and has been recognized as one of Memphis’ “Top 40 under 40” by the Memphis Business Journal, and as a finalist for “Executive of the Year” in 2007. In addition to weekly columns in the Memphis Daily News and the Nashville Ledger, David has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Forbes, Business Week, Investment News, Institutional Investor News, The Tennessean and Memphis Business Journal. He has also made appearances on Fox Business News, Yahoo Finance, Bloomberg TV, CNBC, and CBS News and ABC News Channels. Read some of David's articles on his author page in Inside Memphis Business. David has two wonderful children, Easton and Saylor, an obedient Labradoodle named NASDAQ, and a devoted Goldendoodle named Ripley.


David S. Waddell


Chief Investment Strategist

Sign up to receive the weekly W&A Weekly Strategic Insights in your email.

Powered by