TOOLS
Login to access your documents and resources.
Confirm your location
location select
language select
Investment outlook

Fed hikes by a little less, but promises more to come

Brian Nick
Chief Investment Strategist
A closeup of the eagle on a dollar bill.

After hiking its policy rate by 75 basis points at each of the prior four meetings, the Fed took its foot off the brakes a bit, raising rates by only 50 basis points at its final meeting of the year. Inflation concerns remain, despite a string of softer data, but risks to higher prices and slower growth now appear more balanced than they have for several years.

Brian Nick discusses the Fed hikes by a little less, but promises more to come in the December Fed meeting. 
Watch Brian Nick, Chief Investment Strategist, discuss the latest update from the December 14 FOMC meeting.

What happened?

The U.S. Federal Reserve broke its streak of 75 basis point (bps) hikes, but made it clear it has more work to do to tame inflation as it raised its policy rate by half a percent to a 4.25% - 4.50% range.

The Federal Open Market Committee’s (FOMC) accompanying materials, including updated forecasts, were less optimistic about growth and employment compared to September. Meanwhile, the committee’s median expectation moved higher for the level of rates at the end of both 2023 and 2024.

The Committee made almost no changes to its statement, foregoing an opportunity to point out that inflation readings had moderated in recent months. Fed Chair Jerome Powell pointed out in his press conference that inflation remains elevated and the labor market is out of balance. He provided little to no hope for those looking for signs that the Fed may be ending its tightening cycle in the near future.

The Fed isn't quite done yet

Comments from Fed officials leading up to this meeting heavily hinted at upward revisions to their forecasts for policy rates. And that’s just what they delivered. The median expectation for the fed funds rate at the end of 2023 rose to 5.125% from 4.625% in September. The forecast for 2024 remains quite dispersed among individual members, but clearly calls for rate cuts. The median expectations are for about 100 bps of easing in that year.

Economic forecast revisions were generally more pessimistic. Growth is expected to be just 0.5% next year, as unemployment rises to 4.6%. The Fed also expects core inflation to be stickier, falling to only 3.5% by the end of next year. This higher forecast is consistent with the view that interest rates will still need to be above 5.0% in a year’s time.

 

Searching for a soft landing

It’s unusual for a major data release to drop while the Fed is meeting, but that’s just what we got yesterday with the release of the November report on U.S. consumer price inflation. This release provided further evidence that the slowing rate of price increases over the past few months is solidifying into a durable trend.

While food and rent inflation remain persistent and could prove sticky, falling goods prices and the complete reversal in energy costs have caused inflation to moderate more quickly than markets (and, perhaps, the Fed) were prepared for. The average gasoline price is back to where it started the year. The plummeting cost of diesel fuel, in particular, is a welcome expense cut for businesses in a wide range of industries.

Even beyond the volatile energy sector, we see evidence that disinflation and, in some areas, outright deflation has taken hold. Core goods price inflation has eased to 3.7% from a high of 12.4% earlier this year. And core services inflation, while still elevated, is close to peaking with leading indicators pointing to a slowing pace of growth in wages and rents.

Signs of softer inflation have allowed uneasy optimism to take hold of financial markets. Corporate credit spreads have narrowed, betraying little concern about impending defaults. Equity markets have climbed significantly from their mid-October lows. The Treasury market is a notable exception, with the 10-year note yield dropping about 70 bps from its 24 October high of 4.24%. Normally, plunging longer-term interest rates and a steeply inverted yield curve are flashing warning lights for recession. But an equally plausible explanation at the moment is that investors expect softer inflation to translate into lower interest rates, even in the absence of a severe recession. For that to prove correct, however, we would need to see a Fed pause or pivot on rates soon.

With rates now firmly in restrictive territory and likely to increase further in the opening months of 2023, we believe a soft landing may be too much to hope for. But a worst-case hard landing has also become less likely, given consumer strength, persistent hiring demand in most industries and strong evidence that inflation has peaked.

Navigating the markets in 2023

Because we think the Fed will make good on its pledge to raise rates by more than the market expects, we approach 2023 with a degree of caution about risk assets. Inflation surprises and the rate hikes that follow them were toxic for just about every asset class in 2022. The higher rates go, the more likely we are to see acute economic stress, including declining company earnings and rising concerns about corporate defaults.

As we prepare our portfolios for a further slowing in global growth, we have upgraded our preference for high-quality bonds, including both U.S. corporates and U.S. Treasuries, while slightly downgrading our view of U.S. high yield and senior loans.

Within equities, we are neutral on U.S. large cap and negative on other global public markets given our concerns that tighter economic conditions are not yet baked fully into consensus earnings forecasts. We have also downgraded private real estate, where prices have likely not yet adjusted to the new higher rate environment and further weakness seems likely in the coming quarters.

This defensive mix is appropriate as we enter a year marked by uncertainty about falling inflation and the related policy response. However, we think investors who extend duration and emphasize quality in their portfolios may benefit from today’s higher yields and the potential for price appreciation in both a soft and hard landing.

Featured insights
Investment outlook Looking ahead: U.S. private credit in an age of scarcity
For over a decade, including through COVID-19, the tide of capital has flowed mostly in one direction: into markets.
Investment outlook Portfolio construction themes
The economic backdrop that investors have been anticipating appears to be on the horizon — easing inflation and less aggressive central banks (although the U.S. Federal Reserve is likely to continue tightening, albeit at a more measured pace), but also an increasing likelihood of recession.
Investment outlook The economy and markets
Global inflation remains very high heading into 2023, but we see signs it has peaked.
Contact us
Our offices
London skyline
London
201 Bishopsgate, London, United Kingdom

Endnotes

Sources
Federal Reserve Statement, December 2022.
Bloomberg, L.P.

This material is not intended to be a recommendation or investment advice, does not constitute a solicitation to buy, sell or hold a security or an investment strategy, and is not provided in a fiduciary capacity. The information provided does not take into account the specific objectives or circumstances of any particular investor, or suggest any specific course of action. Investment decisions should be made based on an investor’s objectives and circumstances and in consultation with his or her financial professionals.

The views and opinions expressed are for informational and educational purposes only as of the date of production/writing and may change without notice at any time based on numerous factors, such as market or other conditions, legal and regulatory developments, additional risks and uncertainties and may not come to pass. This material may contain “forward-looking” information that is not purely historical in nature. Such information may include, among other things, projections, forecasts, estimates of market returns, and proposed or expected portfolio composition. Any changes to assumptions that may have been made in preparing this material could have a material impact on the information presented herein by way of example. Performance data shown represents past performance and does not predict or guarantee future results. Investing involves risk; principal loss is possible.

All information has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, but its accuracy is not guaranteed. There is no representation or warranty as to the current accuracy, reliability or completeness of, nor liability for, decisions based on such information and it should not be relied on as such. For term definitions and index descriptions, please access the glossary on nuveen.com. Please note, it is not possible to invest directly in an index.

Important information on risk
This report is for informational and educational purposes only and is not intended to be relied upon as investment advice or recommendations, does not constitute a solicitation to buy or sell securities and should not be considered specific legal, investment or tax advice or analysis. The analysis contained herein is based on the data available at the time of publication and the opinions of Nuveen Research.

The report should not be regarded by the recipients as a substitute for the exercise of their own judgment. All investments carry a certain degree of risk, including possible loss of principal, and there is no assurance that an investment will provide positive performance over any period of time. It is important to review investment objectives, risk tolerance, tax liability and liquidity needs before choosing an investment style or manager.

Nuveen provides investment advisory solutions through its investment specialists.

This information does not constitute investment research as defined under MiFID. 

Back to Top