US CPI: Putting a September Fed Rate Cut Back in Play US CPI: Putting a September Fed Rate Cut Back in Play US CPI: Putting a September Fed Rate Cut Back in Play

US CPI: Putting a September Fed Rate Cut Back in Play

Macro 4 minutes to read
Charu Chanana

Head of FX Strategy

Key points:

  • US April CPI brought relief for market after three consecutive months of upside surprises.
  • While there are positive signs, significant challenges remain, and the Federal Reserve's ongoing battle with inflation is not yet over.
  • Furthermore, the US economy is showing signs of slowdown, with weaker data including lower GDP growth, contractionary PMIs, and subdued consumer confidence.
  • There are early signs that labor market is also softening, with slower job creation and easing demand for workers, suggesting potential headwinds for future growth.
  • With disinflation expectations influencing market sentiment, attention may increasingly shift towards assessing economic growth prospects.
  • We consider different growth and inflation scenarios to help investors position in this evolving economic landscape.

 

US inflation spells near-term relief for markets

The US April CPI came in-line with consensus, helping to ease concerns after three months of inflation overshoot.

  • Headline CPI: 0.3% MoM (vs. 0.4% prev.) and 3.4% YoY (vs. 3.5% prev.)
  • Core CPI: 0.3% MoM (vs. 0.4% prev.) and 3.6% YoY (vs. 3.8% prev.)

This was a relief for markets and fuelled a dovish reaction across asset classes. Equities surged, UST yields tumbled across the curve, and the USD slumped. Market has now priced in a September rate cut from the Fed, with a second rate cut fully priced in for December.

While there are positive signs, significant challenges remain, and the Federal Reserve's ongoing battle with inflation is not yet over. The FOMC members have been focusing on 3- and 6-month annualised inflation metrics as a more accurate gauge of underlying price pressures, and these did not spell an all-clear message for the Fed.

  • 3-month annualised CPI: 4.6% (vs. 4.6% prev.)
  • 6-month annualised CPI: 3.7% (vs. 3.2% prev.)
  • 3-month annualised core CPI: 4.1% (vs. 4.5% prev.)
  • 6-month annualised core CPI: 4.0% (vs. 3.9% prev.)

Supercore metrics were also not as positive, coming in at 4.9% YoY from 4.8% prior. Disinflation was primarily goods-driven, with core services inflation still high at 5.3% YoY in April. Rental inflation also still remained sticky with shelter prices up 0.4% MoM for a third straight month.

More importantly, one month of softer inflation is not a trend, and the Fed will have to wait for more readings to confirm that the disinflation is intact before cutting rates.

To top it all, commodities are rallying hard. Despite the recent cooling, oil prices are up 10% YTD. Copper is up 27% and even agri commodities are rising now amid weather concerns. This does not appear to be an environment that spells all-clear on inflation and a green signal on Fed cutting rates.

Growth slowdown may be underway

There has been a spate of weaker US data over the last few weeks, none of it still signalling that we may be looking at a recession, but still fading the US exceptionalism story amid super-long positioning as we highlighted in the Q2 FX outlook. Let’s take stock of some of the key data points:

  • Headline Q1 GDP growth slowed to 1.6% QoQ saar from 3.4% in Q4, vs. expectations of 2.5%. Personal spending growth was also slower-than-expected at 2.5% as inflation remained high.
  • ISM PMIs for both manufacturing and services were below the 50-mark in April, signalling contraction in activity levels heading into Q2.
  • S&P Global Flash PMIs for April were also soft, as manufacturing fell into contractionary territory printing 49.9 (exp. 52.0, prev. 51.9). Services fell to 50.9 from 51.7, and shy of the forecasted 52.0, leaving the Composite at 50.9 from 52.1.
  • The Conference Board’s consumer confidence index came in at 97 in April, its lowest since July 2022, signalling risks that consumers may limit discretionary purchases going forward.
  • Retail sales for April came in flat and last month’s was revised lower to +0.6% MoM, signalling that consumers remain pressured by inflation and are finding less support from a cooling labor market (as noted below).
  • Similar sentiment was echoed by several consumer companies on their Q1 earnings calls, including Amazon, Starbucks, and McDonald’s, among others, suggesting that the lower-income consumers have turned more cautious on spending.

More importantly, US labor data has started to signal weakness

  • Nonfarm payrolls (NFP) slowed to 175k in April from 315k in March, printing a sub-200k number for the first time in five months. Unemployment rate rose, and the average hourly earnings growth slowed to 3.9% YoY in April, below 4% for the first time since June 2021.
  • US JOLTS jobs openings in March fell to 8.488mln from the prior, revised lower, 8.813mln and beneath the consensus of 8.686mln which highlighted demand for workers continues to ease, with the headline metric declining to the lowest level in more than three years. Quits rate also fell to 2.1% from 2.2%, its lowest since August 2020, pointing to slower wage growth in the months ahead. There were 1.3 vacancies for every unemployed worker in March, the lowest since August 2021.
  • The employment index of ISM manufacturing for April improved to 48.6, but still remained in contraction. The ISM services employment index fell to 45.9 in April, below 50 for a third month.
  • Flash S&P PMIs for April pointed to an overall decline in employment for the first time since June 2020, with weakness in both the manufacturing and services sectors.
  • Initial jobless claims jumped higher after being steady around 210k since February.

Positioning in this evolving economic environment

For now, Fed rate cuts are getting priced in because of disinflation hopes. But with disinflation baked into market’s expectations, focus could shift more towards the growth side.

Let’s consider four scenarios from here, and the risk-reward is tilted towards a more cautious positioning.

Source: Saxo

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