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Week in Review: Fed Holds Rates Steady

Advice & Comments

25 Sept 2023

The Federal Reserve (Fed) paused its extended campaign against inflation last week, holding its benchmark interest rate steady and giving borrowers a breather after 11 hikes since March 2022.

The Federal Reserve (Fed) paused its extended campaign against inflation last week, holding its benchmark interest rate steady and giving borrowers a breather after 11 hikes since March 2022.

As expected, the Fed left its short-term lending benchmark at a target range of 5.25% to 5.50%, the level set at the previous meeting in July. Their updated Summary of Economic Predictions still indicated the likelihood of one more rate increase in 2023.

On the economic front, Fed officials revised their 2023 growth forecast upward to 2.1%, a significant increase from the earlier projection of 1%. They also adjusted their view on peak unemployment, now expecting it to reach 4.1% instead of the previously forecasted 4.5%.

The official Fed statement surprised markets with a more hawkish outlook for interest rates in 2024. In addition, the central bank signaled that a US recession is less likely, while Chairman Jerome Powell reiterated that interest rates are likely to remain higher for longer until inflation starts rapidly moving closer to its 2% target.

The three major U.S. equity benchmarks declined last week as investors reacted to hawkish forecasts from the Fed’s latest meeting and rising U.S. Treasury yields. The S&P 500 and the technology-heavy Nasdaq Composite ended 2.9% and 3.6% lower last week, respectively, while the blue-chip Dow slid 1.9% last week.

In Europe, the STOXX Europe 50 Index ended last week 2% lower due to indications from central banks that higher interest rates would persist. Additionally, concerns arose from higher oil prices and sluggish business activity data, clouding the region's economic outlook.

In the UK, the Bank of England's Monetary Policy Committee voted 5-4 to keep the key interest rate at 5.25%, marking the first pause since December 2021. This decision was made in response to slowing economic growth.

BoE Governor Andrew Bailey emphasized that borrowing costs could rise again if signs of persistent inflationary pressures emerged. This pause followed a report showing a slight decrease in the UK's annual inflation rate from 6.8% in July to 6.7% in August. The UK’s FTSE 100 was little changed in local currency terms, supported by a depreciation of the pound versus the U.S. dollar.

In Asia, Japan’s stock markets were also down last week, with the Nikkei Index ending 3.4% weaker. Sentiment was dampened by the Fed’s signaling that it planned to keep interest rates higher for longer. In contrast, the Bank of Japan (BoJ) matched expectations of no change to its monetary policy at its September meeting, as widely anticipated, the BoJ kept its short-term interest rate at -0.1% and that of 10-year Japanese government bond (JGB) yields at around zero percent.

Chinese equities bucked the trend last week, with the Shanghai Composite Index gaining 0.47% as investors became more optimistic about China's economic prospects.

The Paris-based OECD adjusted its global growth forecast for 2023 upward to 3%, citing the resilience of the U.S. economy, compared to its previous forecast of 2.7% in June. However, it lowered its 2024 projection to 2.7% from 2.9% due to expectations of cooler labor markets, persistent inflation, and the effects of tighter monetary policy slowing global growth.

The outlook points to several downside risks, including the possibility of inflation persisting longer than expected, potential disruptions in energy and food markets, and a slowdown in China that could dampen growth and business confidence in trading partners worldwide.

Market Moves of the Week:

The South African economy is currently facing significant challenges, with consumers feeling the strain from high inflation and interest rates, a weakening local and global economic environment, increasing costs of fuel, water, and electricity, a slight uptick in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), and the ongoing global geopolitical crisis.

In its recent meeting, the South African Reserve Bank's Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) made the decision to maintain the repo rate at 8.25% (with the prime lending rate at 11.75%) for the second time. This move followed a small increase in the Consumer Price Index (CPI) to 4.8% in August, the first uptick in five months. Among the committee members, three voted to keep the rate unchanged, while two members favored a 25 basis point increase.

Governor Lesetja Kganyago noted that although inflation had moderated somewhat throughout the year, the prospect of further deceleration is less certain. Growth forecasts remain subdued, and the long-term economic outlook is clouded by persistent risks, including the adverse effects of climate change and ongoing geopolitical tensions.

The decision was largely in line with economists’ predictions but the close vote between a hold and another rate hike reflects the uncertainty surrounding the local economy.

On Monday, Naspers and Prosus informed shareholders that CEO Bob van Dijk would be stepping down with immediate effect from his position as chief executive as well as his position on the boards of both companies. According to the announcement Van Dijk has agreed to assist with the transition on a consultancy basis until 30 September 2024. Erwin Tu, Prosus’ group chief investment officer has been named interim CEO.

Naspers, a global internet group, currently boasts a market capitalization of more than R560 billion, making it Africa’s largest company in terms of valuation.

On the Johannesburg Stock Exchange, the benchmark All Share Index ended last week 1.6% lower, primarily weighed down by declines in the resource (-3.17%) and industrial (-2.51%) sectors. In contrast, the financial sector ended the week 1.14% stronger.

The rand was firmer on Friday, trading at R18,76/$ by Fridays close, recovering from earlier levels above R19 to the USD last week. However, some analysts cautioned that the potential for further appreciation of the rand may be limited, particularly leading up to the mid-term budget announcement on November 1, due to concerns regarding the state of South African public finances.

Chart of the Week:

Ahead of the Fed interest rate announcement, Bloomberg’s World Interest Rate Probabilities function was predicting a 4.57% rate at the end of 2024, which subsequently rose to 4.76%. As per the chart above the shift in the course for the fed funds rate implicitly predicted by futures over just the last three months has been significant.

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