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"Monitoring the Federal Reserve's Emphasis on 'Real' Rates: A Key Indicator for Investors"

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The Federal Reserve's Emphasis on Real Rates: What Investors Should Know

Central Bankers' Concerns

Recent information from the Federal Reserve indicates that central bankers are more focused on real rates, which measure the difference between nominal rates and inflation indicators, rather than the specific level of the benchmark fed funds rate. This shift in focus is causing some uncertainty in the markets as investors try to gauge how high the Fed is willing to take real rates and how long they will maintain them.

Inflation Pressures and Economic Impact

Minutes from the Fed's July 25-26 meeting revealed officials' concerns about persistent inflation pressures, despite some signs of easing. The market is interpreting the Fed's hawkishness as an indication of their views on long-term real interest rates. Real rates in the range of 2-3% could potentially reduce consumption and investment by increasing the cost of consumer debt and corporate capital.

Gauging the Real Rate

Fed Chairman Jerome Powell defines real rates as the fed funds rate minus "near-term inflation expectations." The University of Michigan consumer sentiment survey serves as a barometer for public inflation sentiment. With the fed funds rate at 5.33% and one-year inflation expectations at 3.3% according to the survey, the current real rate is around 2%. Powell classified the current level as "restrictive," indicating downward pressure on economic activity and inflation.

Impact on Economic Activity

The relationship between the 10-year Treasury yield and inflation rate suggests that the current real rate is approximately 1.6%. While this is below the recent peak of 2.06% in March, it remains higher than the period following the 2008-09 financial crisis until the Fed began raising rates in 2022. Evidence regarding the impact of higher real rates on economic activity is mixed, with inflation declining but economic activity remaining robust and unemployment low.

Potential Effects on Stock Market

The Fed's potential shift to a tighter posture, driven by the focus on real rates, could dampen the stock market rally of this year. The S&P 500 has already experienced a 3% decline since the last Fed meeting, and the release of the July meeting minutes indicating the possibility of more rate hikes led to a market sell-off. Survey responses from market insiders also suggest expectations of increasing real rates through the first half of 2024.

Continued Emphasis on Real Rates

Even if the Fed does not implement further rate hikes, it appears inclined to keep real rates elevated until inflation is under control. This focus on real rates could result in a more hawkish policy, especially if inflation expectations rise again. The stock and bond markets are perceiving potential shifts in the "Fed Put" concept, which assumes the Fed will always protect the economy and asset prices. In conclusion, investors should pay attention to the Federal Reserve's emphasis on real rates, as it can influence monetary policy and impact economic activity and financial markets. Understanding the implications of real rates is crucial for making informed investment decisions in an evolving economic landscape.

Conclusion: The Implications for New Businesses

The Federal Reserve's focus on real rates carries significant implications for new businesses, particularly those in the financial sector.

Understanding Monetary Policy

Firstly, this shift in focus underscores the importance of understanding monetary policy. New businesses must be aware of how changes in real rates can impact the economy and, consequently, their operations.

Planning for Economic Shifts

Secondly, the potential for increased real rates and a more hawkish policy highlights the need for businesses to plan for economic shifts. Businesses should be prepared for the potential effects of higher real rates on consumption and investment.

Managing Financial Risks

Thirdly, the potential impact on the stock market underscores the importance of financial risk management. New businesses should monitor market trends and adjust their financial strategies accordingly.

Adapting to Changing Economic Conditions

Finally, the Fed's emphasis on real rates illustrates the need for businesses to adapt to changing economic conditions. Businesses must be ready to respond to shifts in monetary policy and economic indicators. In conclusion, the Federal Reserve's focus on real rates is a crucial factor that new businesses need to consider. These businesses must understand, plan for, and adapt to the potential economic and financial impacts of this policy focus. This understanding can guide their strategic decisions and help them navigate the dynamic business environment.
Article First Published at: https://www.cnbc.com/2023/08/17/the-feds-focus-on-real-rates-is-what-investors-should-be-watching.html
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