Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Matt Hornbach, Global Head of Macro Strategy for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues, bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about global macro trends and how investors can interpret these trends for rates and currency markets. It's Tuesday, September 28th, at 12:30p.m. in New York.
Just like clockwork, markets have become much more interesting and volatile after Labor Day in the U.S. Investors have been confronted with several issues that have collided in a big bang after what had been a relatively quiet summer. And central bank reactions have been a key part of the story going into the fall.
To start, supply disruptions in commodity markets have led to inflation fears that have manifested themselves in higher market prices for inflation protection, mostly in Europe and the U.K. In response, the Bank of England has expressed more concern over the inflation outlook, since inflation is having a negative impact on the region's growth outlook. This combination of factors has caused real interest rates in Europe and the UK to remain extremely low and has also put downward pressure on the value of the British pound and the euro.
Meanwhile, the U.S. economy has been more insulated from the commodity price shock, and inflation protection in the U.S. was already fully valued. In other words, worries about inflation in the U.S. began to build last year and, as a result, investors had already prepared themselves for the elevated inflation prints we're experiencing in the U.S. today. This means that real interest rates in the U.S. are left marching to the beat of other drummers.
In particular, real interest rates in the U.S. have begun to respond to Federal Reserve monetary policy machinations. Last week, the Fed signaled that tapering its asset purchases could begin near term. That means the Fed will start purchasing less Treasury and agency mortgage-backed securities, leading to a decline in the amount of monetary accommodation the Fed has been providing.
The question is, is this tapering akin to tightening policy? Participants on the Federal Open Market Committee would have you believe that tapering isn't the same thing as tightening policy. And technically they would be correct. When the Fed purchases assets in the open market such that its balance sheet grows, it is easing monetary policy. It's a different form of cutting interest rates. When the Fed's balance sheet no longer grows because it has stopped purchasing assets on a net basis, it is no longer easing monetary policy. In the transition between these two states, the Fed's balance sheet continues to grow, but at a slower rate than before. In this way, the process of tapering is akin to easing policy, but by less and less each month.
But, and this is a big 'but', the process of tapering is the first step towards the process of tightening. Without the Fed tapering its asset purchases and slowing the growth of its balance sheet, rate hikes wouldn't appear on the radar screens of investors. So, the prospect of tapering this year has shown a spotlight on the prospect of rate hikes next year. And that has driven real interest rates higher in the U.S.
So, what happens now? As long as real interest rates in the U.S. rise gradually, as they have done so far this year, the overall level of interest rates in the U.S., as you can see in the Treasury market, should also rise gradually. And if U.S. interest rates rise relative to those in Europe, which already began in August and we think will continue through the balance of the year, then the value of the U.S. dollar should appreciate relative to the euro.
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