Sep 262017

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By G. Steven Bray

The Federal Reserve sounded slightly more optimistic about the economy last week, and bond markets had a fit. The fit didn’t last long, but it was enough to put a dent in our recent rate rally.

Looking at the specifics:

– The Fed said it will start trimming its enormous balance sheet by reducing the amount of bonds it buys each month. It still will take the Fed many years to normalize its balance sheet, and markets fully expected this announcement, so its effect was minimal.

– The Fed indicated that it’s likely to raise short term interest rates again in Dec and that it expects the economy to chug along despite the recent disasters and low inflation. Markets didn’t expect this, which probably caused the fit. Chances of a Dec rate hike as measured in the market went from around 25% to around 75%.

But a good weekend’s rest and some elevated rhetoric from North Korea seem to have calmed the nerves, at least with respect to interest rates.

This week has some moderately important economic data. Any evidence of weakness or falling inflation could reignite our rally. Is that likely? I wouldn’t count on it; however, new North Korea headlines could pressure rates lower through flight-to-safety bond buying. We’re also at the end of the month, which tends to see bond purchases to rebalance portfolios. That can help keep a lid on rates.

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