Commodities

A soft landing is in sight. The Fed may need to slow its rate hiking


U.S. Federal Reserve Board Chairman Jerome Powell takes questions from reporters after the Federal Reserve raised its target interest rate by three-quarters of a percentage point to stem a disruptive surge in inflation, during a news conference following a two-day meeting of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) in Washington, June 15, 2022.Elizabeth Frantz | ReutersThe way I feel about Federal Reserve policy these days could be summed up in Al Pacino’s memorable quote from the 1979 film, “And Justice for All.””You’re out of order! You’re out of order! The whole trial is out of order!”I also feel that way about the constant drumbeat from otherwise respected economists who worry out loud about “entrenched inflation.”It’s as if yet another American system is broken – that of coherent, cogent and patient analysis.A multitude of empirical data points to peak inflation. Hedge fund manager Bill Ackman recently noted that there are “indications” that inflation is cooling, and Fed Chairman Jerome Powell has vowed to raise rates until the job is done.Nevertheless, the drumbeat about accelerating inflationary trends persists, even in the face of mounting evidence that inflation – starting with the August consumer price index report – is about to plummet this fall.Falling pricesThere are forecasts that suggest August CPI dropped slightly on a monthly basis.Gasoline prices are down for 87 days in a row, according to Bank of America. Oil prices have tumbled to about $85 this week.Gasoline prices and CPI track very closely over time.Commodity prices – from lumber to copper to agricultural goods – continue to slide. This has yet to show up in the retail inflation numbers.The prices paid component of the most recent ISM Manufacturing report dropped. It suggests that pipeline inflation will decline, as inflation expectations among both bond market investors and consumers continue to crash.Even larger sectors of the economy are facing outright deflation as Fed policy and credit conditions tighten even further.Roughly 16% of home purchase contracts on existing dwellings were cancelled in July, Redfin found. That same month, about 17% of builder contracts fell through, according to John Burns Real Estate Consulting.The inventory of unsold homes is building, and sellers are lowering asking prices in once red-hot real estate markets even as rents stay unusually high.Mortgage applications, pending home sales, new and existing home sales continue to decline as rates on 30-year loans pop as high as 5.89%.Rising recession riskMore fundamentally, the supply chain disruptions that have dogged the global economy have finally eased considerably.Shipping rates have plunged, and the volume of global trade has also declined.This points not only to falling inflation but also the rising risk of recession, both abroad and at home.China’s economy is, effectively, imploding as its strict “Zero Covid Policy” is again forcing lockdowns in major cities, slowing consumer spending and restraining overall growth.Worse, China’s property market continues to slide, raising the risk of a systemic financial shock in the world’s second largest economy.The dollar’s strength is also putting downward pressure on “imported inflation.” That’s because a stronger dollar increases the purchasing power of American businesses and consumers when buying foreign components or foreign-made goods.The dollar index is up about 18% over the past year.However, there is a downside to that, as a surging greenback raises the costs of U.S. exports overseas and cuts into the value of repatriated profits among U.S. multi-national corporations. Not only is this disinflationary, but it’s also recessionary.The speculative excesses in financial markets have been wrung out of the system. The economy is slowing. A soft landing is in sight.That has not deterred the Fed and other observers from suggesting that rates need to be higher and stay that way for some time to drive inflation back down.It makes me want to scream, “You’re out of order! The whole court of economic opinion is out of order!”I’m not screaming. I’m just pointing out the facts on the printed page.That page, though, is screaming for the Fed to stop raising rates, sooner rather than later.— Ron Insana is a CNBC contributor and a senior advisor at Schroders.

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