Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • May 26, 2023

Unresolved Questions Create Market Uncertainty

With Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist


Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Assets Strategist for Morgan Stanley. Along with my colleagues bringing you a variety of perspectives, I'll be talking about trends across the global investment landscape and how we put those ideas together. It's Friday, May 26th at 2 p.m. in London.

A hot topic of conversation at the moment is that three big questions that have loitered over the market since January still look unresolved.

The first of these is whether inflation is actually coming down. Surprisingly, high inflation was a dominant story last year and a major driver of the market's weakness. A number of low inflation readings in January gave a lot of hope that inflation would now start to fall rapidly, as supply chains normalized and the effect of central bank policy tightening took effect.

Yet the data since then has been stubbornly mixed. Headline inflation is coming down, but core inflation, which excludes food and energy, has moderated a lot less. In the U.S., the annualized rate of core consumer price inflation over the last three, six and 12 months is all about 5%. Today's reading of Core PCE, the Fed's preferred inflation measure, came in above expectations. And in both the UK and the Eurozone, core inflation has also been coming in higher than expected.

We still think inflation moderates as policy tightening hits and growth slows, but the improvement here has been slow. One reason our economists think that would take quite a bit of economic weakness to push the Fed, the European Central Bank or the Bank of England, to cut rates this year.

That ties nicely into the second issue. Over the last two months, there's been a lot more excitement that the Federal Reserve may now be done raising interest rates, thanks to all of the tightening they've already done and the potential effect of recent U.S. bank stress. But with still high core inflation and the lowest U.S. unemployment rate since 1968, this issue is looking much less resolved. Indeed, in just the last two weeks, markets have moved to price in an additional rate hike from the Fed over the summer.

Third and more immediate is the U.S. debt ceiling. Risks around the debt ceiling have been on investors' radar since January, but as U.S. stocks have risen this month and volatility has been low, we've sensed more optimism, that a resolution here is close and that markets can move on to other things.

But like inflation or Fed rate increases, the U.S. debt ceiling still looks like another key debate with a lot of questions. U.S. Treasury bills or the cost of insuring U.S. debt, have shown more stress, not less, over the last week. As of this morning, a one month U.S. Treasury bill is yielding over 6%.

Optimism that inflation is now falling, the Fed has done hiking and the debt ceiling will get resolved, have helped push both stocks and bond yields to the high end of the recent range. But with these issues still raising a lot of questions, we think that may be as far as they go for the time being, presenting an opportunity to rotate out of stocks and into the aggregate bond index.

Thanks for listening. Subscribe to Thoughts on the Market on Apple Podcasts, or wherever you listen, and leave us a review. We'd love to hear from you.

Optimistic investors have pushed stocks and bond yields to the high end of the recent range. But inflation, banks and the status of the debt ceiling are still raising questions that have gone unanswered.

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