August 11, 2023

Inoculating Pandemic Economics

stethoscope syringe money

Bottom Line:


The Fed’s 2% yearly inflation target disaggregates into a monthly inflation target of .17%. For the last two months, Consumer Price Inflation has averaged .16%. Right on target!  And that pedestrian pace should forestall further Fed hikes. With nominal GDP reclaiming normal, inflation reclaiming normal, and long-term interest rates reclaiming normal, pandemic economics has entered the endgame. Absent another black swan event, things could get very boring for investors as normal activity translates into average returns. And while that may sound underwhelming, remember, average stock market returns double your money every seven years.



The Full Story:


The Fed’s 2% inflation goal represents the shorthand version of “normal” for the markets, but there are other critical markers of normal that require reclamation. With COVID economics under inoculation by the Fed, let’s examine the big three and see what we see!


Normal Nominal


When measuring the pace of the US economy, most observers rely on inflation-adjusted changes in gross domestic product (real GDP). As we’ve noted in previous commentary, real GDP ticked higher in Q2 (+2.4%) and appears poised to tick higher again in Q3:




This certainly seems counterproductive, with the Fed summoning lower GDP growth to lower inflation. However, for a true appraisal of economic velocity, we must look at the pace of GDP without inflation adjustments (nominal GDP):




Nominal GDP has fallen consistently over the past year. This paints a much more comforting picture for the Fed as the nominal economy has slowed at a measured pace, assisting with its disinflation agenda. In fact, Q2 nominal GDP grew by 4.7%, roughly in line with its 20-year average of 4.5%. Normal nominal GDP levels should help normalize everything else.


Normal Inflation


On Thursday, we received further evidence of inflation’s descent as the Consumer Price Index for July rose .16% for the month. Multiply .16% by 12, and the annualized inflation rate falls below 2%. Most inflation reporting uses year-over-year numbers, which simply aggregate monthly movements. For July, the monthly move was .16% (encouraging), but the year-over-year change was 4.7% (discouraging). Don’t fret! Of the 12 monthly changes that aggregate into the annual number, August and September of 2022 caused most of the trouble:




August and September will fall off the rolls in the upcoming months. The elimination of these “base effect” distortions will lead to a cascade lower in core inflation from 4.7% today to below 3.5% by year-end.


Lastly, housing inflation accounted for 90% of the monthly increase in July. As we have discussed, housing disinflation lags because renters and homeowners infrequently vacate and reprice properties. The Fed acknowledged this dynamic early on by directing attention to “supercore” inflation (services inflation less food, energy, and housing). For July, “supercore” inflation advanced .2% as well and will benefit from the same base effect evaporation as core inflation as we approach year-end.




Altogether, we remain convicted that the Fed should not, and will not, raise rates further and that inflation has locked onto a glide path toward normal.


Normal Rates


Just as inflation changes have distorted GDP measurement, they have also distorted interest rate behavior. Remember, near-term interest rates key off Fed policy decisions, while longer-dated maturities key off economic expectations. Pandemic inflation forced the Fed to raise near-term rates to 5.25%, a 22-year high! But longer-term rates reside within normal ranges:




For most observers, a 4% interest rate on ten or 30-year Treasury bonds feels abnormal. But in truth, 4% is far more normal than the negative interest rate world we inhabited last decade:




In fact, for most of our history prior to shunning the Gold Standard (designed to eliminate inflation), long-term US interest rates vacillated around 4%. So, while 4% may not feel normal to us today, it feels quite normal to history.


The pandemic economic era is winding down, and major economic indicators are resuming normal operations. While recency bias may keep investors on edge for some time, normal levels of economic activity should result in more normal levels of market activity… and less abnormal anxiety for investors!


Have a great weekend!


David S. Waddell  

CEO, Chief Investment Strategist




Sources: Blue Chip Economic Indicators and Blue Chip Financial Forecasts, FRED, Macrobond, ING



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