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RalphCole_032_web_ by Ralph Cole, CFA Executive Vice President of Research

Talk, Talk, Talk

It seems that every time you turn around, the Fed is trying to communicate information to the capital markets or to Congress. This week, Janet Yellen made a trip to Congress to speak to the Joint Economic Committee where she gave a very balanced view of the economy and of possible future Fed actions.

Chairwoman Yellen said that the U.S. economy paused in the first quarter, but appeared to be gaining steam in the current quarter. This view dovetails perfectly with our own views at Ferguson Wellman. The questions from Congressional members centered on job growth, unemployment and the labor participation rate. As we watch testimony of this type, it is interesting to observe the new Fed Chair sidestep the clearly partisan questions and get to the heart of what the Fed is tasked to do and what duties are tasked to Congress. This inculcation occurs every time the Fed Chair is invited to give testimony. The Fed has a dual mandate ― maximum employment and stable prices. This slower than usual recovery has placed an increased focus on employment, and what the definition of “full” employment actually is. Congress and the markets want to identify the exact unemployment rate at which the Fed will begin raising rates, which we think is foolhardy. The Fed Chairwoman explained the importance of not reading too much into any one data series, and any one data point. Rather, it will depend on a number of factors.

Here in our office we are turning our focus toward wage-related inflation. Increasing wages are often a precursor to overall inflation for the economy, and just like the Fed, we will be looking for acceleration at the margin for a number of indicators, not any one indicator.

What’s Going On

What has surprised us has been the movement of rates going lower in the face of better growth. Many explanations have been floating around and we suspect it is a combination of slower growth in the first quarter of the year and low rates around the world, making the yield on the 10-Year U.S. Treasury look appealing. We continue to believe that an improving labor market and positive GDP growth will move rates higher in the coming months.

Our Takeaways from the Week

  • While Chairwoman Yellen is adept at dealing with Congress, we hope that the Fed can reduce their commentary in the future which we believe will reduce overall volatility in the fixed income markets
  • Strong first quarter earnings for the S&P 500 continue to support higher stock prices in the future