Nuke: I want to bring the heater. Announce my presence with authority.
Crash: To announce what?
Nuke: My presence with authority.
Crash: To announce your presence with authority?! This guy's a first ball fastball hitter, looking for the heat.
Nuke: So what? He ain't seen my heat.
Crash: All right, Meat. Give him your heat.
– Bull Durham
In a surprise move, on March 3, 2020, the US Federal Reserve cut its benchmark rate by 50 basis points to a targeted upper bound of 1.25%. The markets were calling for a cut by the Fed — or at least inclination of support at its next meeting. The markets got what they wanted, and more — which is the problem that led to the recent sell-off. In our view, the Fed cutting interest rates does nothing to address the economic impact of the coronavirus. This is not a financial or credit problem. This is a supply and demand problem brought on by containment efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus. Rate cuts would help alleviate a financial problem and are likely to support during the recovery, but again, in our view, will do nothing to offset the slowdown in the near-term.
So, where does this leave us?
First, while the current conditions are vastly different from other economic slowdowns, in the past, Fed rate cuts have coincided with tighter credit conditions. At this time, it is difficult to suggest that credit conditions have tightened up. In fact, since the three rate cuts by the Fed late last year credit conditions have actually eased. Therefore, the Fed’s efforts, with best intentions, is unlikely to improve the situation.
Secondly, as we have said in the past, when evaluating the Fed’s actions, “the medium is the message.” While Chairman Powell commented in the press conference that the US economy was solid, his actions said otherwise. You can’t have it both ways. Just as a tightening implied economic strength, an easing implies weakness. By cutting rates the Fed is signaling that the US economy faces headwinds. And by cutting rates outside of a set meeting, the signal was loud. This is why, in our view, the markets sold off following the announcement. And until the economic situation clears, we believe the volatility will remain.
As we have been saying, at this point in time, while the risks have increased, we are not of the belief that the current environment will evolve into a recession. The earnings impact, however, hasn’t been fully realized. As such, until we have greater clarity about the earnings growth impact of the containment efforts of the coronavirus in the US and other countries, we will remain defensive and underweight equities with our model asset allocation at 50% equities and 50% fixed income.
Philip Petursson, CIM
Chief Investment Strategist
A rise in interest rates typically causes bond prices to fall. The longer the average maturity of the bonds held by a fund, the more sensitive a fund is likely to be to interest-rate changes. The yield earned by a fund will vary with changes in interest rates.
Currency risk is the risk that fluctuations in exchange rates may adversely affect the value of a fund’s investments.
The opinions expressed are those of Manulife Investment Management as of the date of this publication, and are subject to change based on market and other conditions. The information and/or analysis contained in this material have been compiled or arrived at from sources believed to be reliable but Manulife Investment Management does not make any representation as to their accuracy, correctness, usefulness or completeness and does not accept liability for any loss arising from the use hereof or the information and/or analysis contained herein. Manulife Investment Management disclaims any responsibility to update such information. Neither Manulife Investment Management or its affiliates, nor any of their directors, officers or employees shall assume any liability or responsibility for any direct or indirect loss or damage or any other consequence of any person acting or not acting in reliance on the information contained herein.
All overviews and commentary are intended to be general in nature and for current interest. While helpful, these overviews are no substitute for professional tax, investment or legal advice. Clients should seek professional advice for their particular situation. Neither Manulife, Manulife Investment Management Limited, Manulife Investment Management, nor any of their affiliates or representatives is providing tax, investment or legal advice. Past performance does not guarantee future results. This material was prepared solely for informational purposes, does not constitute an offer or an invitation by or on behalf of Manulife Investment Management to any person to buy or sell any security and is no indication of trading intent in any fund or account managed by Manulife Investment Management. No investment strategy or risk management technique can guarantee returns or eliminate risk in any market environment. Unless otherwise specified, all data is sourced from Manulife Investment Management.
Manulife, Stylized M Design, and Manulife Investment Management & Design are trademarks of The Manufacturers Life Insurance Company and are used by it, and its affiliates under license.