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Cathie Wood questions US Fed’s ‘Unanimous’ decision to hike rate 13-fold in six months

The Fed seems focused on two variables, downstream inflation and employment, both of which are lagging indicators.

Cathie Wood questions US Fed’s ‘Unanimous’ decision to hike rate 13-fold in six months
Cathie Wood in an open letter to the US Fed says that the central bank is making a policy error that will cause deflation.

Cathie Wood, Founder, CEO, and CIO of ARK Invest has written an open letter to the US Fed raising serious concerns about the way the central bank has handled inflation till now. Cathie Wood, in the open letter to Fed, raises concerns on four fronts – upstream price deflation, downstream deflation, employment, and headline inflation.

In the open letter marked to Fed, Cathie Wood says that the Fed is making a policy error that will cause deflation. In the face of conflicting data, the unanimity of the Fed’s last decision to increase the Fed funds rate by 75 basis points was surprising, writes Wood. Excerpts from the open letter:

On Upstream Price Deflation

Commodity prices are leading indicators, upstream in the stages of processing. Most commodity prices have peaked and, except for food and energy, are falling on a year-over-year basis.

Without question, food and energy prices are important, but we do not believe that the Fed should be fighting and exacerbating the global pain associated with a supply shock to agriculture and energy commodities caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

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On Downstream Deflation

Downstream, inventory accumulation seems to be overwhelming manufacturers and retailers. After grappling with supply chain constraints for more than a year, even world-class companies seem to have overruled their automated enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems and over-ordered merchandise.

In the face of single-digit sales growth, inventories at Walmart and Target increased 25.5% and 36.1%, respectively, during the most recent quarter. Nike’s recent quarterly results suggest that the inventory imbalances have worsened. Despite sales growth of only 3.6%, Nike’s inventories increased 44.2% globally. In North America and on ships in transit, its inventories increased 64.8% and 85.0%, respectively!

In the auto sector, used car price inflation as measured by the Manheim used value index peaked at 54.2% on a year-over-year basis in April 2021 and made another run to 46.6% in December 2021, but have dropped 13.5% year to date and now are down 0.1% year-over-year.

Facing inventory losses, used car dealers are likely to disgorge more inventories, which could push price inflation deeply into negative territory.

Also Read: Fed to deliver 4th consecutive 75 bps rate hike in November

On Inflation and Employment

The Fed seems focused on two variables that are lagging indicators––downstream inflation and employment––both of which have been sending conflicting signals and should be calling into question the Fed’s unanimous call for higher interest rates.

During September and early October, the Fed felt vindicated in its tough stance by reports that inflation, as measured by both the CPI and PCE Deflator excluding food and energy, increased 0.6% (7-8% annualized) and that the PPI excluding food and energy increased 0.4% (5% annualized).

Including food and energy, the CPI increased and the PPI fell 0.1% (1% annualized), however, while home prices as measured by the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) fell 0.6% (7-8% annualized).

Reported on the employment front during September and early October, initial claims for unemployment insurance declined and nonfarm payroll employment increased 263,000, but job openings as measured by JOLTS fell 10% or 1.1 million, manufacturing employment as measured by the ISM Purchasing Managers Index contracted, and Challenger involuntary job separations soared 67.6% on a year-over-year basis.

Unanimous? Really?

Could it be that the unprecedented 13-fold increase in interest rates during the last six months––likely 16-fold come November 2––has shocked not just the US but the world and raised the risks of a deflationary bust?

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First published on: 11-10-2022 at 16:16 IST