Morgan Stanley
  • Thoughts on the Market Podcast
  • Sep 23, 2022

The Fed Continues to Fight Inflation

With Andrew Sheets and Seth Carpenter

Transcript

Andrew Sheets: Welcome to Thoughts on the Market. I'm Andrew Sheets, Chief Cross-Asset Strategist for Morgan Stanley Research.

Seth Carpenter: And I'm Seth Carpenter, Morgan Stanley's Global Chief Economist.

Andrew Sheets: And on this special edition of the podcast, we'll be talking about the global economy and the challenges that central banks face. It's Friday, September 23rd at 2 p.m. in New York.

Andrew Sheets: So, Seth, it's great to talk to you. It's great to talk to you face to face, in person, we're both sitting here in New York and we're sitting here on a week where there was an enormous amount of focus on the challenges that central banks are facing, particularly the Federal Reserve. So I think that's a good place to start. When you think about the predicament that the Federal Reserve is in, how would you describe it?

Seth Carpenter:Absolutely, Andrew. I think the Federal Reserve is in a such a challenging situation because they have inflation that they know, that everyone knows, is just simply too high.So they're trying to orchestrate what what is sometimes called a soft landing, that is slowing the economy enough so that the inflationary pressures go away, but not so much that the economy starts to contract and we lose millions of jobs. That's a tricky proposition.

Andrew Sheets: So we had a Federal Reserve meeting this week where the Fed raised its target interest rate by 75 basis points, a relatively large move by the standards of the last 20 years. What did you take away from that meeting? And as you think about that from kind of a bigger picture perspective, what's the Fed trying to communicate?

Seth Carpenter: So the Federal Reserve is clear, they are committed to tightening policy in order to get inflation under control, and the way they will do that is by slowing the economy. That said, every quarter they also provide their own projections for how the economy is likely to evolve over the next several years, and this set of projections go all the way out to 2025. So, a very long term view. And one thing I took away from that was they are willing to be patient with inflation coming down if they can manage to get it down without causing a recession. And what do I mean by patient? In their forecasts, it's still all the way out in 2025 that inflation is just a little bit above their 2% target. So they're not trying to get inflation down this year. They're not trying to get inflation down next year. They're not trying to get inflation down even over a two year period, it's quite a long, protracted process that they have in mind.

Andrew Sheets: One question that's coming up a lot in our meetings with investors is, what's the lag between the Fed raising interest rates today and when that interest rate rise really hits the economy? Because, you are dealing with a somewhat unique situation that the American consumer, to an unusual extent, has most of their debt in a 30 year fixed rate mortgage or some sort of less interest rate sensitive vehicle relative to history. And so if a larger share of American debt is in these fixed rate mortgages, what the Fed does today might take longer to work its way through the economy. So how do you think about that and maybe how do you think the Fed thinks about that issue?

Seth Carpenter: It's not going to be immediate. In round terms, if you take data for the past 35 years and come up with averages, you know, probably take something like two or three quarters for monetary policy to start to affect the real side of the economy. And then another two or three quarters after that for the slowing in the real side of the economy to start to affect inflation. So, quite a long period of time. Even more complicated is the fact that markets, as you know as well as anyone, start to anticipate central bank. So it's not really from when the central bank changes its policy tools when markets start to build in the tightening. So that gives them a little bit of a head start. So right now, the Fed just pushed its policy rate up to just over 3%, but markets have been pricing in some hiking for some time. So I would say we're already feeling some of the slowing of the real side of the economy from the markets having priced in policy, but there's still a lot more to come. Where is it showing up? You mentioned housing. Mortgage rates have gone up, home prices have appreciated over the past several years, and as a result we have seen new home sales, existing home sales both turnover and start to fall down. So we are starting to see some of it. How much more we see and how deep it goes, I think remains to be seen.

Andrew Sheets: So Seth, another issue that investors are struggling with is on the one hand, they're seeing all of these quite large moves by global central banks. We're also seeing a reduction in the central bank balance sheet, a reversal of the quantitative easing that was done to support the economy during COVID, the so-called quantitative tightening. How do you think about quantitative tightening? What is it? How should we think about it?

Seth Carpenter: I have to say, during my time at the Federal Reserve, I wrote memos on precisely this topic. So what is quantitative tightening? It is in some sense the opposite of quantitative easing. So the Federal Reserve, after taking short term interest rates all the way to zero, wanted to try to stimulate the economy more. And so they bought a lot of Treasury securities, they bought a lot of mortgage backed securities with an eye to pushing down longer term interest rates even more to try to stimulate more spending. So quantitative tightening is finding a way to reverse that. They are letting the Treasury securities that they have on their balance sheet mature and then they're not reinvesting, and so their balance sheet is shrinking. They're letting the mortgage backed securities on their balance sheet that are prepaying, run off their balance sheet and they're not reinvesting it. And when they make that choice, it means that the market has to absorb more of these types of securities. So what does the market do? Well, the market has to make room for it in someone's portfolio, and usually what that means is to make room on a portfolio prices have to adjust somewhere. Now, markets have been anticipating this move for a long time, and I suspect our colleagues who are in the Rate Strategy Group suspect that most of the effect of this unwind of the balance sheet is already in the price. But the proof is always really in the pudding, and we'll see over time, as the private sector absorbs all these securities, just how much more price adjustment there has to be.

Andrew Sheets: And then, I imagine this is a hard question to answer, but if the Fed started to think that it was tightening too much, if the economy was slowing a lot more than expected or there was more stress in the system than expected - do we think it's more likely that they would pause quantitative tightening or that they would pause the rate hikes that the market's expecting?

Seth Carpenter: I feel pretty highly convicted that if the slowing in the economy that they're seeing is manageable, if it's within the range of what they're expecting, it's interest rates. Interest rates are, to refer once again to what Chair Powell has said many times, the primary tool for adjusting the stance of monetary policy. So they're hiking rates now, at some point they'll reduce the size of those rate hikes and at some point they'll stop those rate hikes. Then the economy, hopefully in their mind, will be slowing to reduce inflationary pressure. They might judge that it's slowing too much if they feel like the adjustment they have to make is to lower interest rates by 25 basis points, maybe 50 basis points, even a little bit more than that if it happens over the course of a year, I still think the primary tool is short term interest rates. However, if the world changes dramatically, if they feel like, oh my gosh, we totally misjudged that. Then I think they would curtail the run off of the balance sheet.

Andrew Sheets : Seth, thanks for taking the time to talk.

Seth Carpenter : Andrew, It's always my pleasure to talk to you.

Andrew Sheets : And 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.

After another Fed meeting and another historically high rate hike, it’s clear that the Fed is committed to fighting inflation, but how and when will the real economy see the effects? Chief Cross-Asset Strategist Andrew Sheets and Global Chief Economist Seth Carpenter discuss.

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