Awaiting Jackson Hole

Awaiting Jackson Hole by Michael McKenna
Complacency all around, the melt up continues and tech stocks sore to fresh highs overnight. However Asian markets take pause in a lacklustre trade ahead of the Jackson Hole event risk, Powell’s speech will be keenly watched, as tensions between the US and China simmer.

In the midst of COVID-19 crisis, the big picture is rates are going nowhere fast, secular stagnation fuels the proliferation of zombie companies and financial repression looms large fuelling mounting inequalities and wealth disparities throughout broader society. “We’re not even thinking about thinking about raising rates,” Powell told reporters post the June FOMC meeting.

Despite this, the Jackson Hole speech delivered by Chairman Powell tonight will still be consequential for traders and risk assets alike. With central bank watchers poring over Powell’s every word for confirmation of dovish ramifications and clues on the outcome of the year-plus monetary policy framework review. This year’s Jackson Hole theme is “Navigating the Decade Ahead: Implications for Monetary Policy.” Although a formal announcement is not expected, Powell may signal where the Committee are placed in terms of changes to monetary policy and their new inflation commitments. Commentary which will be key for the continuation of the speculative met up in risky assets aggressively recouping their COVID induced losses. And the plunge in real yields supporting precious metals.

The July FOMC minutes pushing back on the prospects of YCC, which is likely off the table for now, raising the likelihood of outright forward guidance and average inflation targeting (AIT) becoming a key piece of the Fed’s fresh commitment to achieving their inflation target.

This could include a commitment to keeping the fed funds rate close to zero until actual inflation reaches and preferably exceeds 2% target. Then add in a dash of average targeting, which could see a range of 2%-4% inflation tolerated, as an offset to inflation running below 2% for so long prior. Making a clear signal that the Fed are determined to see inflation above 2% in tolerating a temporary overreach. These accommodative policy changes will be pivotal for real yields if the Fed commit to anchoring nominal yields, music to the ears of growth stocks, and precious metals that thrive off the persistent collapse in real yields. But also the commitment to inflation driving demand for alternative assets, hard commodities and inflation hedging.

With the very notion of continued central bank intervention, zero rates for years to come and AIT in mind, gold and silver futures have notched up their highest finish in a week, as expectations run high for Powell’s speech.

Although Powell will be wary of disappointing asset markets whilst the real economy flounders in the wake of the global pandemic, it seems the bar to disappoint could be relatively low given the expectations surrounding AIT already embedded. Last week’s disappointment to the July FOMC simply being “not dovish enough” stoked sharp reversals across the risk asset and precious metals complex. The feverish buying in the Nasdaq this week makes us wary into tonight’s speech of a corresponding sharp reversal should disappointment ensue.

Rising Nasdaq volatility (VXN), alongside a surging index itself also flashes warning signals that all may not be rosy beneath the surface. Particularly as the spread between the VIX (S&P 500 volatility) and VXN sits at a historic extreme. This corrects one of two ways, VIX rises or VXN falls.

Topics: Equities Asia United States China Coronavirus VIX.I Federal Reserve