Dollars and Sense

Patience and Pre-Conditions

Beata Caranci, SVP & Chief Economist | 416-982-8067

James Orlando, CFA, Senior Economist | 416-413-3180

Date Published: February 6, 2019

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Highlights

  • Both the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Canada have rightfully pressed the pause button on future rate hikes until the data confirm greater economic momentum. 
  • This leaves a higher burden of proof on the data, suggesting specific pre-conditions need to be met before a central bank steps back in with another upward policy rate adjustment. These include relatively stable financial conditions, a bounceback in global growth, and stronger evidence of intensifying domestic inflationary pressures.
  • It will take time for these factors to materialize, causing us to punt the timing for rate hikes into late 2019. However, it’s important to emphasize that the data now needs to make a compelling case, since both central banks have moved into the lower bound of estimates of neutral interest rates. We have long argued that 2019 will be the peak in the interest rate cycle, and the case is probably more compelling today than it was in 2018.
Chart 1: Policy Rate Expectations Diminished

On January 30th, financial markets let out a huge sigh of relief when the Federal Reserve signaled a shift in its monetary stance. It was only a short period prior (in October) when the Fed Chair stated “we’re a long way from neutral” interest rates. In December, a formal FOMC communication reinforced the tightening cycle by noting “further gradual increases” were still warranted. But, just six weeks later, the January FOMC statement changed course by citing “the Committee will be patient” . In effect, a tightening bias quickly became redefined as a neutral stance. Were the earlier statements a miscalculation on the Fed’s part? Not really. The sands shifted under their feet in that short period, and the Fed can be credited with demonstrating the flexibility required to be responsive and true to the data. To explain, we’ll first need to take a small step back in time. 

At the end of the summer in 2018, U.S. economic growth was pushing well above 3% and equity markets were hitting new highs. Then the world changed. Data started revealing that trade tensions and slowing growth in China and Europe were chipping away at sentiment, manufacturing and export activity. Corporations  started reporting weaker earnings guidance and equities the world over fell precipitously. This is where recession talk began to heat up, and surveys began revealing higher odds being assigned by market participants. Then along came the New Year and with it, renewed optimism. This optimism was partly rooted in central bank speeches displaying candor in the need to reevaluate the risks to the economic outlook and the emphasis that monetary tightening was not on a preset course. That rhetoric has now been followed by action. 

The Fed has hit pause, but for how long?

The Fed’s patient mood seems to be more rooted in the deterioration in the global outlook and the resulting fragility of financial market sentiment, rather than domestic conditions. An intensifying downdraft within China and Europe placed economic data surprises pretty much on one side: negative. Importantly, this started to reveal an increased risk of a synchronized global downturn. Although the U.S. data have not been out of step with our expectations in any meaningful way, an easing trend is unfolding against this global backdrop and amidst tighter financial conditions. Added to this is the reality that there has been little improvement in event risks related to trade tensions, Brexit, and other geopolitical tensions.

When combined with muted inflationary pressures, the Fed is under no pressing need to raise rates and, in fact, is showing some comfort at holding closer to the lower level of their neutral estimate (2.50-3.50%), at least until there’s stronger data to suggest otherwise. As Powell has noted, “you can’t directly observe the neutral rate … we have to put aside our own priors of what that rate might be and let the data speak to us”. This leaves a higher burden of proof on the data, causing us to map out some possible pre-conditions that need to occur before the Fed would consider moving interest rates further into the estimated neutral range. 

First, it almost goes without saying that financial markets need to be reasonably stable.  We say “reasonably stable” because central banks guard against being responsive to the inherent volatility of risk-appetite. However, they generally take market volatility into consideration when outsized moves augment the impact-risks to the broader economy via wealth, confidence and spending behaviors. After a wild December, the appetite for risk-assets has bounced off the floor, allowing our Financial Stress Indicator (Chart 1) to return to levels consistent with an average degree of stress. This index now signals less than a 20% probability of recession in the next 12 months. With equities rallying, bond yields holding steady, and credit spreads narrowing, we don’t need much more reassurance from financial markets that cooler heads prevail. However, sustainability is key on this front alongside what we believe to be a second precondition: stabilization in global conditions.  

The Fed will want to see a period of stable-to-stronger global economic momentum, particularly given broadly weaker growth that set in towards the end of 2018. Most economists anticipated cloudy skies for the UK amidst Brexit limbo-land, but were caught off-guard by disappointments within mainland Europe, including France, Germany, and Italy. Although this deterioration partly reflects one-off factors, more worrisome is the prospect that underlying growth has weakened as a consequence of the slowdown in Chinese demand, and may also reflect the impact of elevated trade and global economic uncertainty. In addition, Europe has a much smaller growth-cushion to absorb negative shocks and is already at a low monetary setting. 

Although global events historically do not move the Fed’s hand due to the economy’s low export dependency, revenues of many U.S. firms depend now more than ever on foreign demand. As such, the U.S. is no longer an island and financial market stability is increasingly intertwined with global developments. In addition, the Federal Reserve has previously shown patience in the face of global uncertainty, as recently as 2016, when the rate hike cycle was placed on a one-year hold while the Fed assessed the knock-on impact of China’s slowing economy.   

Chart 1: Policy Rate Expectations Diminished

However, the most important precondition on the interest cycle is a return to above-trend domestic economic growth in Q2 and beyond. This would mark a proof-point that global conditions have not washed upon domestic shores. But, this alone may not be sufficient to satisfy the Federal Reserve. Ultimately, the burden of proof will fall to whether a persistence of economic growth is pushing up inflationary pressures and market expectations. The importance of this needs to be underscored. Chart 2 shows the pull-down forces that have been hitting U.S. Treasury yields in recent weeks. There has been an utter collapse in market expectations for both inflation (-40 bps) and the Fed policy path (-60 bps). We’ve been here before with expectations moving lower on the policy path, but the collapse in inflation is overdone relative to the state of the economy. This measure has a high correlation to oil price movements, but even absent that, it’s clear that financial markets have shifted to an “I’ll believe it when I see it” mind set. Strengthening in inflation and, importantly, inflation expectations will be a necessary condition for any further rate hikes. This may require the Fed to stretch its patience to allow for an inflation “overshoot” in order for the data to build the credibility needed to sustain higher market expectations. 

All this to say that we find ourselves reinforcing the thesis presented at the start of the year that history may indeed characterize Q1 as the make-or-break quarter of this economic cycle. It will likely take a number of months before the ducks fall into line either supporting or refuting any further rate movements from the Fed. In this context, we have pushed out the timing of the next rate hike to the third quarter, but even this will have a low conviction if inflation does not deliver. At best we can argue that the balance of risks are between zero and one increase for 2019 as a whole. 

The Bank of Canada to follow the Fed’s lead

If these are the pre-conditions we expect for the Federal Reserve, than the bar is set even higher for the Bank of Canada. Added to their list of pre-conditions is a sustained acceleration in wages. The central bank has made no secret that it is looking for wage growth to reach 3% or more, with the recent decelerating trend being somewhat of a puzzle. Given Canada’s more pronounced near-term growth challenges relative to our neighbors to the south, a patient Fed necessarily means an even more patient Bank of Canada. This is particularly true as the domestic housing market continues to underperform even modest expectations for stabilization. And, given historically high debt levels and consequently elevated interest-rate sensitivity, the Bank of Canada also needs reassurance that past interest rate increases do not weigh too heavily on households. The combination of events means that the risks around our prevailing Bank of Canada call have also shifted towards a longer delay into the fourth quarter. 

Bottom Line

If there is one main takeaway, it’s that U.S. and Canada’s central banks have shifted into a wait-and-see mode now that their policy rates are narrowing in on the lower bound estimates of the neutral range. This resets the bar for further rate hikes at a higher threshold, leaving less scope for higher rates in 2019 than in prior years. With global economic momentum disappointing, it is still uncertain whether a fulsome recovery will take hold to sustain financial market stability. Even once this occurs, the domestic data needs to find a stronger footing (which we think it will) and inflation expectations need to reflect that outcome. It could take a number of months before all these ducks fall into line to either support or refute any further rate movements from the Federal Reserve and the Bank of Canada. Until then, patience will be the catchword of 2019.  

Tables

Interest Rate Outlook
  Spot Rate 2018 2019 2020
  Feb-05 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1F Q2F Q3F Q4F Q1F Q2F Q3F Q4F
CANADA              
Overnight Target Rate  1.75 1.25 1.25 1.50 1.75 1.75 1.75 1.75 2.00 2.25 2.25 2.25 2.25
3-mth T-Bill Rate  1.66 1.10 1.26 1.59 1.64 1.75 1.75 1.88 2.13 2.25 2.25 2.25 2.25
2-yr Govt. Bond Yield  1.83 1.77 1.91 2.21 1.86 1.85 2.00 2.15 2.25 2.35 2.35 2.35 2.35
5-yr Govt. Bond Yield  1.85 1.96 2.06 2.33 1.88 1.95 2.05 2.20 2.35 2.45 2.45 2.45 2.45
10-yr Govt. Bond Yield  1.94 2.09 2.17 2.42 1.96 2.05 2.20 2.35 2.45 2.60 2.60 2.60 2.60
30-yr Govt. Bond Yield  2.18 2.23 2.20 2.42 2.18 2.30 2.45 2.60 2.70 2.85 2.85 2.85 2.85
10-yr-2-yr Govt Spread 0.11 0.32 0.26 0.21 0.10 0.20 0.20 0.20 0.20 0.25 0.25 0.25 0.25
U.S.               
Fed Funds Target Rate  2.50 1.75 2.00 2.25 2.50 2.50 2.50 2.75 2.75 2.75 2.75 2.75 2.75
3-mth T-Bill Rate  2.36 1.70 1.89 2.15 2.40 2.40 2.53 2.65 2.65 2.65 2.65 2.65 2.65
2-yr Govt. Bond Yield  2.52 2.27 2.52 2.81 2.48 2.55 2.65 2.75 2.75 2.75 2.75 2.75 2.75
5-yr Govt. Bond Yield  2.51 2.56 2.73 2.94 2.51 2.65 2.75 2.85 2.85 2.85 2.85 2.85 2.85
10-yr Govt. Bond Yield  2.70 2.74 2.85 3.05 2.69 2.80 2.90 3.00 3.00 3.00 3.00 3.00 3.00
30-yr Govt. Bond Yield  3.03 2.97 2.98 3.19 3.02 3.05 3.15 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25 3.25
10-yr-2-yr Govt Spread 0.18 0.47 0.33 0.24 0.21 0.25 0.25 0.25 0.25 0.25 0.25 0.25 0.25
CANADA - U.S SPREADS                          
Can - U.S. T-Bill Spread -0.70 -0.60 -0.63 -0.56 -0.76 -0.65 -0.78 -0.77 -0.52 -0.40 -0.40 -0.40 -0.40
Can - U.S. 10-Year Bond Spread -0.76 -0.65 -0.68 -0.63 -0.73 -0.75 -0.70 -0.65 -0.55 -0.40 -0.40 -0.40 -0.40
F: Forecast by TD Economics, February 2019; Forecasts are end-of-period.
Source: Bloomberg, Bank of Canada, Federal Reserve.  
Global Stock Markets
  Price 30-Day YTD 52-Week 52-Week
  Feb-05 % Chg. % Chg.  High Low
S&P 500 2,738 8.1 9.2 2,931 2,351
S&P/TSX Composite 15,703 8.8 9.6 16,567 13,780
DAX 11,368 5.6 7.7 13,170 10,382
FTSE 100 7,177 5.0 6.7 7,877 6,585
Nikkei 20,844 6.6 4.1 24,271 19,156
MSCI AC World Index* 493 7.2 8.2 528 436
*Weighted equity index including both developed and emerging markets. 
Source: Bloomberg, TD Economics.

Commodity Price Outlook
  Price 52-Week 52-Week 2018 2019 2020
  Feb-05 High Low Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1F Q2F Q3F Q4F Q1F Q2F Q3F Q4F
Crude Oil (WTI, $US/bbl) 54 76 42 63 68 70 59 54 58 62 65 65 66 66 66
Natural Gas ($US/MMBtu) 2.57 4.80 2.52 3.10 2.82 2.90 3.78 3.23 3.10 3.05 3.08 3.04 2.98 2.99 3.01
Gold ($US/troy oz.) 1315 1354 1174 1329 1306 1213 1229 1275 1290 1300 1325 1330 1350 1355 1365
Silver (US$/troy oz.) 15.85 17.25 14.00 16.74 16.56 15.02 14.58 15.50 16.00 16.50 17.00 17.25 17.50 17.70 17.70
Copper (cents/lb) 279 333 259 316 312 277 280 268 279 293 293 302 303 305 306
Nickel (US$/lb) 6.02 7.14 4.85 6.01 6.56 6.02 5.21 4.99 5.22 5.67 5.90 6.12 6.35 6.38 6.41
Aluminum (Cents/lb) 87 115 82 98 102 93 89 85 87 93 93 95 98 99 99
Wheat ($US/bu) 7.00 8.08 6.15 7.42 7.46 6.70 6.85 6.80 6.94 7.00 7.02 7.05 7.07 7.10 7.13
F: Forecast by TD Economics, February 2019; Forecasts are period averages; E: Estimate.
Source: Bloomberg, USDA (Haver).
Foreign Exchange Outlook
Currency Exchange
rate
Spot Price 2018 2019 2020
Feb-05 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1F Q2F Q3F Q4F Q1F Q2F Q3F Q4F
Exchange rate to U.S. dollar                          
 Chinese Yuan CNY per USD 6.74 6.27 6.62 6.87 6.88 6.80 6.80 6.80 6.80 6.80 6.80 6.80 6.80
 Japanese yen JPY per USD 110 106 111 113 110 109 107 106 105 104 103 103 102
 Euro USD per EUR 1.14 1.23 1.17 1.16 1.15 1.15 1.17 1.18 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24
 U.K. pound USD per GBP 1.30 1.40 1.32 1.31 1.28 1.30 1.31 1.32 1.33 1.34 1.35 1.36 1.37
 Swiss franc CHF per USD 1.00 0.95 0.99 0.98 0.98 0.98 0.98 0.98 0.98 0.98 0.98 0.98 0.98
 Canadian dollar CAD per USD 1.31 1.29 1.31 1.29 1.36 1.31 1.31 1.30 1.30 1.29 1.29 1.28 1.28
 Australian dollar USD per AUD 0.72 0.77 0.74 0.72 0.71 0.73 0.73 0.74 0.75 0.76 0.76 0.76 0.76
 NZ dollar USD per NZD 0.69 0.72 0.68 0.66 0.67 0.68 0.69 0.70 0.71 0.72 0.72 0.72 0.72
Exchange rate to Euro                          
 U.S. dollar USD per EUR 1.14 1.23 1.17 1.16 1.15 1.15 1.17 1.18 1.20 1.21 1.22 1.23 1.24
 Japanese yen JPY per EUR 125 131 129 132 126 125 125 125 126 126 126 126 126
 U.K. pound GBP per EUR 0.88 0.88 0.89 0.89 0.90 0.89 0.89 0.89 0.90 0.90 0.90 0.90 0.91
 Swiss franc CHF per EUR 1.14 1.17 1.16 1.13 1.13 1.13 1.15 1.16 1.18 1.19 1.20 1.21 1.22
 Canadian dollar CAD per EUR 1.50 1.59 1.53 1.50 1.56 1.51 1.53 1.53 1.56 1.56 1.57 1.58 1.58
 Australian dollar AUD per EUR 1.58 1.60 1.58 1.61 1.63 1.58 1.60 1.60 1.60 1.59 1.61 1.62 1.63
 NZ dollar NZD per EUR 1.65 1.70 1.72 1.75 1.71 1.69 1.69 1.68 1.69 1.68 1.69 1.71 1.72
Exchange rate to Japanese yen                          
 U.S. dollar JPY per USD 110 106 111 113 110 109 107 106 105 104 103 103 102
 Euro JPY per EUR 125 131 129 132 126 125 125 125 126 126 126 126 126
 U.K. pound JPY per GBP 142 149 146 148 140 142 140 140 140 139 139 139 140
 Swiss franc JPY per CHF 110.0 111.4 111.6 116.3 111.6 110.9 108.8 107.8 106.8 105.8 104.8 104.3 103.7
 Canadian dollar JPY per CAD 83.7 82.4 84.3 87.8 80.4 83.2 81.7 81.5 80.8 80.6 80.2 80.0 79.9
 Australian dollar JPY per AUD 79.6 81.7 81.9 82.1 77.3 79.6 78.1 78.4 78.8 79.0 78.3 77.9 77.5
 NZ dollar JPY per NZD 75.8 76.9 75.0 75.3 73.6 74.2 73.9 74.3 74.7 75.0 74.3 73.9 73.6
Exchange rate to Canadian dollar                          
 U.S. dollar USD per CAD 0.76 0.78 0.76 0.77 0.73 0.76 0.76 0.77 0.77 0.78 0.78 0.78 0.78
 Japanese yen JPY per CAD 83.7 82.4 84.3 87.8 80.4 83.2 81.7 81.5 80.8 80.6 80.2 80.0 79.9
 Euro CAD per EUR 1.50 1.59 1.53 1.50 1.56 1.51 1.53 1.53 1.56 1.56 1.57 1.58 1.58
 U.K. pound CAD per GBP 1.70 1.81 1.73 1.69 1.74 1.70 1.72 1.72 1.73 1.73 1.74 1.74 1.75
 Swiss franc CHF per CAD 0.76 0.74 0.76 0.76 0.72 0.75 0.75 0.76 0.76 0.76 0.77 0.77 0.77
 Australian dollar AUD per CAD 1.05 1.01 1.03 1.07 1.04 1.05 1.05 1.04 1.03 1.02 1.02 1.03 1.03
 NZ dollar NZD per CAD 1.10 1.07 1.12 1.17 1.09 1.12 1.10 1.10 1.08 1.08 1.08 1.08 1.09
F: Forecast by TD Economics, February 2019; Forecasts are end-of-period. 
Source: Federal Reserve, Bloomberg. 
International Interest Rates Outlook
  Spot Rate 2018 2019 2020
  Feb-05 Q1 Q2 Q3 Q4 Q1F Q2F Q3F Q4F Q1F Q2F Q3F Q4F
Germany                          
ECB Deposit Rate -0.40 -0.40 -0.40 -0.40 -0.40 -0.40 -0.40 -0.40 -0.25 -0.25 0.00 0.00 0.25
3-mth T-Bill Rate  -0.52 -0.79 -0.65 -0.58 -0.84 -0.50 -0.50 -0.43 -0.35 -0.23 -0.10 0.03 0.15
2-yr Govt. Bond Yield  -0.57 -0.62 -0.67 -0.53 -0.62 -0.44 -0.34 -0.22 -0.07 0.11 0.39 0.67 0.90
5-yr Govt. Bond Yield  -0.30 -0.11 -0.30 -0.09 -0.32 -0.07 0.08 0.24 0.42 0.65 0.90 1.13 1.35
10-yr Govt. Bond Yield  0.17 0.49 0.30 0.47 0.24 0.30 0.50 0.70 0.90 1.20 1.40 1.60 1.80
30-yr Govt. Bond Yield  0.78 1.15 1.02 1.08 0.87 0.85 1.05 1.35 1.55 1.75 1.95 2.15 2.35
10-yr-2-yr Govt Spread 0.74 1.11 0.97 1.00 0.86 0.74 0.84 0.92 0.97 1.09 1.01 0.93 0.90
United Kingdom                      
Bank Rate 0.75 0.50 0.50 0.75 0.75 0.75 0.75 0.75 1.00 1.00 1.25 1.25 1.25
3-mth T-Bill Rate  0.78 0.51 0.59 0.75 0.70 0.75 0.75 0.88 1.00 1.13 1.25 1.25 1.38
2-yr Govt. Bond Yield  0.75 0.81 0.71 0.82 0.73 0.75 0.94 1.17 1.31 1.45 1.59 1.73 1.88
5-yr Govt. Bond Yield  0.87 1.11 1.03 1.17 0.90 1.10 1.30 1.51 1.68 1.85 2.02 2.19 2.37
10-yr Govt. Bond Yield  1.23 1.35 1.28 1.44 1.14 1.45 1.65 1.85 2.05 2.25 2.45 2.65 2.85
30-yr Govt. Bond Yield  1.74 1.71 1.74 1.91 1.82 1.80 2.00 2.20 2.40 2.60 2.80 3.00 3.00
10-yr-2-yr Govt Spread 0.48 0.54 0.56 0.62 0.42 0.70 0.71 0.68 0.74 0.80 0.86 0.92 0.97
F: Forecast by TD Economics, February 2019; Forecasts are end-of-period.
Source: Bloomberg. 

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